Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

After more than two decades, all of us--except my brother--went to the town where we had spent a good chunk of our lives.  A town that makes us recall nothing but good times, even though the ending was not what we would have scripted.

Of course, we went to the old home.  One of the many things that struck me was how green the entire compound was.  Immensely more than when we were there.  It was almost a private enchanted forest.

In the forests and the Savannah where we humans spent most of our lives before we invented agriculture and quickly became urban (and urbane too?!)  At a gut-level, it has always appealed to me that we should maintain those links to the old home--the wilderness.  But, the wuss that I am, I don't wish to be far away from the material comforts of our modern existence.  The nice bed. Indoor toilet. Shower. Hot food.  But, it is good to get away on a regular basis.

That I have been doing regularly. And now I have more reasons to keep up the practice:
Several theories have been proposed as to why spending time in forests might provide health benefits. Some have suggested that chemicals emitted from trees, so-called phytoncides, have a physiological effect on our stress levels. Others suggest that forest sounds — birds chirping, rustling leaves — have a physiologically calming effect. Yet evidence to support these theories is limited.
The "limited" does not discourage me because that is how science operates.  It takes a number of studies and under highly controlled conditions before researchers can confidently make their claims.  But, seriously, who among us thinks that “forest bathing” will not do us good?
“I usually encourage participants to sit or lie down on the forest ground and listen to the sounds,” [Dr. Hiroko Ochiai, a surgeon based at Tokyo Medical Center] says. “The hypersonic natural world can be soothing, and things are always moving even while we are still. It can be very calming.” 
Therein lies an important aspect of this nature treatment: It is about the mindfulness.  

I have encountered mountain bikers, for instance, along the nature trails.  They aren't listening to the "hypersonic natural world" because they are too focused on their movement.  Be still they cannot.  When we walk, however, we stop whenever we want. We look at the moss. The strange knots on trees. We feel the ground under the shoes. We hear the whistling sounds of the gentle breeze. The woodpecker. And, yes, the mosquitoes too.  

Unfortunately, in our modern existence, a significant number of humans have virtually no access to forests and lakes and rivers and oceans.  Most of us are trapped in concrete jungles with asphalt trails, and we wonder why we are stressed and unhappy, even as we spend all our times looking at tiny blue screens!

So, back to the scientific evidence:
The science is still lacking to prove it. But there is some evidence — as well as good old common sense — to suggest that spending time in nature is good for both the mind and body, whether done as a group or alone. It may be something we all need more of. 

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