VIEW ON NATURE: Wash Your Mind
By: Stephen Wendt
I grew up next to a large forest in Annandale. As a young boy, I loved walking in the woods, immersed into the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches of Mother Nature. From the tiniest of insects, secretive amphibians, and spry mammals, to peaceful bird songs, aromatic spring honeysuckle, sweet summer blackberries, and the soft tall fern pastures and rough-barked persimmon and other hardwoods, the forest was my other world.
Fast forward to a hike with a city slicker friend deep into a National forest decades later. I’ll never forget what he said on that serene rock cropping. “This place really washes my mind!” Hard to believe he’d never ventured from the clamor of civilization into the forest until that day!
We shouldn’t be surprised about our kinship with the forest. Homo sapiens evolved ~200,000 years ago. Yet it wasn’t until the last 1% of our existence that we moved indoors using the earliest clay stoves about 2,000 years ago. In other words, the forest and Nature are IN our blood.
I’m not alone in the forest’s embrace. We all know how good it feels being in Nature. The moment we enter, the dappling sunlight through the leaves, the fresh forest scent, the muffled sounds — a meditative feeling of well-being. Forty years ago in Japan they coined this immersion into the forest as shinrin-yoku which translates into forest bathing, or experiencing the forest through all of our senses. This Japanese concept represents a subtle and very real observation of mental and physical rejuvenation by walking amongst trees and Nature.
Rejuvenation in the natural world – think Henry David Thoreau's book, Walden (aka Life in the Woods, 1854), about his spiritual discovery living in the woods. Or reflect on the famous Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, our earliest advocate of wilderness preservation who said, “Allow Nature’s peace to flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” Even the famous Dutch painter Van Gogh, an avid outdoors artist proclaimed, “If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”
There's a growing body of university and medical evidence that forest bathing enhances our health. It reduces inflammatory stress, depression and anger and can improve concentration, creativity and cognitive and cardiovascular health. A 2011 study comparing similar walks in the city to those in the forest found that the forest walks led to greater reductions in blood pressure and stress hormones. Forest immersion eases anxiety, helps us think more clearly, and restores our mood and vitality. This is why so many Japanese physicians prescribe shinrin-yoku for their most stressed ultra-urban patients, and forest bathing is taking off in the U.S. and globally through multiple forest therapy associations and certified guides.
I’ve read it’s impossible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood at the same time. Therefore, during the pandemic and other stressful times, simply connect with Nature through your senses—cross that bridge into the natural world. Slowly savor it like a 7-year old child doing something just because it’s calling you.
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