Today we continue our discussion of the six dimensions of wellness by discussing one aspect of environmental wellness: Nature and the power of connecting with nature. First, we need to know the definition of wellness.
Environmental Wellness – Living in harmony with our surroundings and respectful of the environment; Surrounding yourself with a healthy, calming, toxin-free environment. (EXAMPLES: RECYCLING, VOLUNTEERING, NATURAL RESOURCE AWARENESS)
What is Shinrin-Yoku
In this TedX talk, Ronna Schneberger*, a Shinrin-Yoku guide, discusses this beautiful practice and why it’s so powerful. (HINT: She talks about the actual chemical given off by the trees that is so beneficial to our body AND gives 3 things you can do TODAY to destress and refocus your mind)
Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is simply going out and spending relaxing and quality time in the forest, amongst the trees. Here is a quote from the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy website:
“… the practice of spending time in forested areas for the purpose of enhancing health, wellness, and happiness. The practice follows the general principle that it is beneficial to spend time bathing in the atmosphere of the forest. The Japanese words translate into English as “Forest Bathing.” Although we are inspired by the Japanese practice our use of the terms Forest Therapy and Shinrin-Yoku do not mean a specifically Japanese practice. We mean spending time in nature in a way that invites healing interactions. There is a long tradition of this in cultures throughout the world. It’s not just about healing people; it includes healing for the forest (or river, or desert, or whatever environment you are in).”
Benefits of Shinrin-Yoku
A 40 minute walk in the forest has the following WELLNESS benefits:
- Decreased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone, aka your fight of flight hormone. This hormone increases blood glucose, controls the metabolism, and regulates blood pressure…to name a few. Some cortisol is good for health. However, most people are over stressed and have too much in their system.
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system OPPOSITE the fight or flight response. It initiates rest, conserves energy and slows the heart rate.
- Boosts the immune system – In one study, men spent 2 hours in the forest and saw a 50% increase in “natural killer cells” – our body’s natural defense system – and they stayed that way for a month! (The cancer fighting, tumor fighting cells!)
- Increases mental performance and creativity
3 things to do to become nature-wise!*
- Go for a 15 minute walk each day – This is known to reduce cortisol levels by 12%.
- On your walk…be aware of the sights and sounds around you…the air in your hair, the flowers growing nearby. This helps restore focus.
- Tune into your senses deeply. Bath in the forest….focus on the beauty of nature. Take the time to really see, feel, hear and smell what is around you. This will improve mental clarity.
As I sit in the quiet of the forest, I am lost to the peace and energy that permeates my being. I absolutely love being in the forest. When I am amongst the trees, I feel at one with the world, unified with our disconnected society. All worries wash away…all stress fades…all concerns are lifted and carried away by these majestic guardians of this beautiful planet we call home.
Because of my fascination with the forest, I was drawn to do some research on the symbolism of forests and trees. Trees have always held an air of mystery throughout mythology and history. To some, forests serve as protection and providers of food, weapons and shelter. To others forests are a scary and mysterious place full of the unknown.
This reminds me of the legend of Robin Hood as his men. For Robin Hood, the forest was their home, providing shelter and sustenance. On the other hand, for the Sheriff, the forest was full of unknowns, evil spirits and danger.
For me, walking through the forest symbolizes a spiritual journey. The forest represents the mysteries for which I am searching. As I walk through the spiritual forest in search of answers to my spiritual questions, as well as for unity, love and enlightenment, the trees keep me at peace, as well as provide me with the protection and the energy I need on my journey.
That is the power of environment…That is what being nature-wise means to me. That it also ties in with spirituality… is no coincidence.