"In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks" - John Muir
As nourishment for the body and soul, I offer the practice of Shinrin-yoku. Today's modern life demands and our increasingly "over stimulated" culture tethered to technology, has left us feeling stressed, mentally fatigued, encumbered with a myriad of health concerns and experiencing emotional, physical and spiritual disconnect from ourselves, each other and nature. The result is a drain on our vitality, creativity and our sense of wellness and wholeness. An antidote to this malady is the experience of a Shinrin-yoku walk in a peaceful natural setting, where we move from "doing" into "being" as we slowly engage our senses and become present with our surroundings, allowing natures own beauty and rhythms to rebalance us.
Imagine a therapy that has no known side effects, is readily available, and would improve your cognitive functioning, lower blood pressure and reduce stress at zero cost. It's called "interacting with nature."
Nature to the Rescue
Immersing our senses in the natural world has therapeutic value. The Japanese have embraced this methodology of healing and refer to it as Shinrin Yoku or "Forest Bathing". First proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan, it has now become a recognized relaxation and stress management activity.
Research findings explain the relationship between natural environments and the physiological effects on the body such as a decrease in blood pressure and pulse rates, arresting of sympathetic nervous activity (fight or flight response), a decrease in cortisol levels and the boosting of our immune system. A mere 20 minutes of quiet time in nature, alters cerebral blood flow in a manner that indicates a state of relaxation.
Our lack of time spent in the natural world, referred to as "Nature Deficit Disorder" by author Richard Louv, has been associated with depression and cognitive decline. Studies show there is a mental and emotional restoration from being in nature such as positive mood, sense of wellbeing, increased mental cognition, stimulated learning and creativity, meaningfulness and the restoring of inter-connectedness to mankind and the earth. In one study alone, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed and anxious to more calm and balanced.
Natural settings offer a soft soothing focus for us to glance upon, providing relief from cognitive fatigue and constant visual stimulation, allowing our brains time to rest and recover. Nature walkers as opposed to city walkers, showed decreased activity in the subgenus prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain tied to depressive rumination. A similar experiment found that a 50 minute walk in an arboretum improved executive attention skills such as short term memory, while walking along a city street did not.
When we breathe in Phytoncides, the organic compounds contained in evergreen trees, shrubs and other flora, our bodies respond by relaxing our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) thus lowering our stress hormones, and increasing the number and activity of white blood cells called NK or natural killer cells. These contain anti-cancer proteins and attack tumor and virus infected cells in our body. This increase in NK cells and their effects is sustained for 7 or more days after spending just one day in a natural environment.
Our sense of smell is linked to our limbic system located in the centre of the brain. It is responsible for regulating our emotional and mental functions such as learning, motivation, storing memories, regulating hormones, sensory perception and motor function. When we smell something, in this case breathing in the fragrance of the forest and natural world, the response is instant as are the effects on the brain's mental and emotional responses and on our body chemistry.
Equally important is our experience of connection. When simply viewing nature scenes, parts of the brain associated with empathy and love light up as opposed to viewing urban scenes where parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety become activated. It appears that nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment. Just getting in touch with your breathing can connect you to the nature in yourself.
What Sets Shinrin Yoku Apart
There are many wonderful ways of experiencing nature such as gardening, camping, hiking or learning the nomenclature of local flora and fauna. Shinrin Yoku is different. It is a slowing down....a disengaging of our analytical mind and awakening and attuning into our often underutilized senses, allowing ourselves to be more present and aware of ourselves and the natural environment. We create space and invite the possible unfolding of dialogue between person and place, open to what it might reveal and open to our own responses.
Tich Nhat Hahn, teaches a practice he refers to as "looking deeply". He shares that when we look at an orange, we see just an orange. But if we look deeply, we may see the sunlight that allowed it to grow. We may also see the wood of the tree from which it sprang. And the water and nutrient rich soil that fed it, and the hands of the person that picked it. It's about being "present" and looking beyond the surface, for looking deeply makes for a more connected and grateful life.
As a young adult I often sought out quiet areas in nature when seeking clarity or in need of comfort. Sitting there for hours I would relax into all that was alive and moving around me, unable at the time to make the connection as to why this felt "right". Today my time spent in nature, allowing myself to relax, becoming present in my surroundings, I receive the gifts of a sense of calm, mental clarity, creative stimulation and comfort. But more importantly I feel a profound sense of coming home, a remembering of all that I am a part of, and being drawn to an unexplainable receiving of wisdom and feeling of love.
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a Physiological Anthropologist, feels we evolved with and in the natural world, so our cells, systems and rhythms recognize the cells, systems and rhythms of nature. He believes our bodies relax in pleasant natural surrounding because they evolved there.
A Shinrin Yoku Walk
Breathe, relax, and simply notice. This may sound foreign or feel awkward as we are so accustomed to assaulting ourselves at every turn with agendas and information. Imagine yourself in a tranquil natural environment....as you leisurely wander through the landscape, guided by a series of sensory awakening Invitations, you begin to feel a shift in your body...a slowing down...a calmness creeping in and perhaps your shoulders dropping as tension begins to fade. As your senses get called into play, you feel the varying degrees of breeze on your skin, and as you breathe in the fragrance of a leaf rubbed between your fingers, you recall a beautiful moment from another time and place. And maybe for the first time you are seeing more shades of green than you ever thought possible. Perhaps you're drawn to a particular tree and as you sit and marvel at its unique beauty you share with it your deepest thoughts. In the Sonoran desert, the Tohono O'odham Native Americans believe that the stately Saguaro cactus is human and that it offers us wisdom and guidance. All places and things speak to us, if only we have the ears to listen.
Shinrin Yoku or "Forest Bathing", is a way of moving through a natural area that invites transformational interactions. It's about granting ourselves permission to "just be". And in that moment we are free to be curious, playful, joyful, emotional, grateful or surprised by all that nature offers. It helps expand our senses and re-ignite a sense of awe and wonder that perhaps has not been felt since we were kids.
A Forest Therapy - Shinrin Yoku walk takes 2 to 3 hours and the mileage that we cover is no more than a mile. We walk, meander, sit and simply notice....It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the body and mind to settle into new surroundings and the offering of Invitations not only provides for this transition, it helps us become aware and more present with ourselves and our surroundings.
After each Invitation, we gather in a circle and share what was noticeable or meaningful to us. If this feels beyond your comfort level, no worries, as you are welcome to join in and just listen. We end our walk with an Invitation to partake in a Tea Ceremony, offering an intimate way of experiencing the land within our body and expressing gratitude for all that we experienced. It also signifies our leaving of the "more than human world" and the re-entering of our human reality.
I'm often asked, "Why do I need a Guide?" The concept of being in nature undistracted, in a mindful present way does not come easily for most of us. In fact slowing down for even 10 to 15 minutes can be challenging and uncomfortable. We're accustomed to doing and going not being still. A Forest Therapy Guide can ease your transition into slowing down, by offering a series of specifically selected Invitations, bringing into play senses that you may not use on an everyday basis. As you engage your senses you begin to open up to all that is going on around you, receiving all that nature has to offer. It is always beneficial to have guided support as you become comfortable and familiar with instilling a new lifestyle habit. Developing a meaningful relationship with nature occurs over time and is deepened by returning again and again. It allows you to build up a practice, not rushing the experience, as you become more attuned to using the natural world for re-connecting, self discovery and healing. A Guide holds a safe non judgemental space for you to become re-introduced to nature in a way that is supportive and engaging, allowing you to receive your own unique expericne with the earth.
Each of us is bound to nature by invisible threads......At the end of the day, we come out into nature not because science says it does something to us, but because of how it makes us feel.
May through November of 2017, I will be offering Shinrin Yoku walks at Sabino Canyon and Tucson Botanical Gardens early in the am as well as evening. Also the beautiful Mt. Lemmon to escape the heat of the summer and experience the beauty of the forest, it's multitude of greens, wildflowers and streams. As summer wanes we will take advantage of the fall colors and then slowly move down
to lower elevations. Make sure to stay posted for my "Full Moon Shinrin-yoku walks.
The walks average from 2 to 3 hours and the trails chosen are easy and non strenuous. Please wear comfortable clothing, closed toed shoes, preferably trail or hiking boots, bring a hat, rain jacket or umbrella, sunscreen and in case of bugs, non toxic insect repellent. This is about self care being a number #1 priority for you, so please bring what will keep you most comfortable. Don't forget to bring adequate water and if you like, snacks for the tea ceremony.
To participate (RSVP) in a group walk or to schedule a private Shinrin Yoku walk, hop on over to my connect page, and enter your email and phone number, stating which walk you would like to participate in, the date and location, and I will confirm with directions. And please feel free to address any questions or concerns you might have.
As I schedule walks, I will post the dates, times and locations below. If you would like to be placed on my Shinrin Yoku mailing list, please leave your email address on my connect page, and I will notify you of future walks.
Shinrin Yoku Walks for Summer and Fall, 2017:
|TBD||Haramara Retreat Center, Sayulita, Mexico||RSVP|
|TBD||Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista|
Nature Therapy begins with the fact that we indeed live in the lap of a great intelligence, as Emerson once said. It is a practical acknowledgement that health, healing, wholeness and holy are related not just by linguistic accident but by the fact that they are one and inseparable.