When was the last time you laid back in the grass, sat under a tree, and escaped the noise pollution of cars honking, sirens blaring, cell phones ringing, and people talking? Watched the Sun rise or set? Observed birds playing, talking or build their nest? Followed a butterfly from flower to flower? Went camping without your nose stuck in social media accounts?
The stress of our daily routines, technology use, and noise pollution often overwhelms our senses and becomes the norm for most people. This high paced lifestyle has been shown to cause a significant decline within our mental and physical health. Dramatic increases have been found in cases of depression, anxiety, digestive unrest, and neurological issues, just to name a few. All symptoms of not taking the time to care for ourselves by disconnecting from all that keeps us from being in our most natural state. There are things that you can do to help reset and realign yourself in order to function better in such a hectic environment. Methods include practices such as nature therapy, also known as ecotherapy, forest bathing, and gardening. It all starts with walking outside.
Nature therapy practices have been used for a long time, dating back to Roman times in which gardens would be planted in the middle of the city for increasing the health and vitality amongst the people. The term “Ecotherapy” was first coined into term by pastoral counselor Howard Clinebell in his book published in 1996. Clinebell’s theory is that being in nature has valuable curative influences that include improving the mood and wellbeing while decreasing anxiety, stress and depression within an individual. (Clinebell, 1996). There have been many more books and insights written on this topic since. Doctors have often been known to prescribe sunlight for the benefits of helping individuals with a variety of ailments, including anxiety, depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (Sorgen, 2019). All research thus far collective points to the restorative properties held within being in a natural environment.
In Japan, there is a term for going to nature to heal, Shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoko, 2019). Scientific evidence shows that spending time within a living forest, or out in nature, has a positive impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing. Taking the time to consciously disconnect from the modern world of convenience has shown to “boost the immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, improved mood, increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD, accelerated recovery from surgery or illness, increased energy levels, and improved sleep” (Shinrin-yoko, 2019). The technique is simple and easy to use. Simply take a calming walk in a natural environment, being mindful not to rush, and breathe. The soothing and invigorating benefits begin immediately and have lasting effects.
Planting a garden has calming properties as well, even with the achy muscles that sometimes comes with this form of nature therapy practice. Not only are you outside in nature, in the sunlight and fresh air but you are also getting your hands dirty. A research study conducted by the University of Bristol reported the immunological benefits that the microbes in soil actually performs in a similar way to that of prescribed antidepressants (Lowry, 2007). In particular, the nonpathogenic, saprophytic bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae “activated a specific subset of serotonergic neurons” (Lowry, 2007). This particular Mycobacterium is a rapid growing microbe within the soil, and has been used in a successful vaccine creation for leprosy and anti-TB drug treatment therapies (Wallis & Johnson, 2009). These discoveries proving that microscopic beings within the soil can help us by directly effecting our neurological and immune systems in order to create a hormonal shift for a positive emotional and physical result is remarkable.
Resetting and realigning balance within our daily lives to include more nature immersions is essential to our health and wellbeing. Take a walk at a local park, sit with the birds, touch the grass and trees. Get your hands so dirty that it takes a while to get the dirt out from under your fingernails. Breathe and release all the stress, worry, what if’s. Make the time to take care of yourself and connect to what we are a part of.
“When you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” Banksy
“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Alan Watts
Clinebell, H. (1996). Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves Healing the Earth.
Lowry, C. a. (2007). Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: potential role in regulation of emotional behavior. Neuroscience Journal, 756-772.
Shinrin-yoko. (2019, April 16). Retrieved from Shinrin-yoko.org: http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html
Sorgen, C. (2019, April 16). Nature Therapy. Retrieved from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy#1
Wallis, R., & Johnson, J. (2009). Immunotherapy of tuberculosis. Science Direct.