Nature has always been a vital part of me. Growing up I was blessed to be immersed in my own fairytale filled with pristine forests and trickling streams. I spoke of our local fauna as friends and returned every summer evening with dirty knees and a handful of weeds. Barefoot and carefree, there was a connection that could not be denied. As I grew up I found myself craving landscapes that I had seen only in my dreams. I embraced this wanderlust and booked one way tickets to places that still feel like home. Intoxicated by the emotions, I floated in the salty waves and stood above the cloud covered forests in lands that had welcomed me as one of their own. It was throughout these journeys that I came to realize our existence among the natural world is anything but independent.
There are songs about the mountains and tales to claim the seas. For generations humans have found themselves both intrigued and humbled by the forces of nature. But what is the true correlation between it all? Why is there so much sickness within the walls of our concrete jungles when compared to those who spend time on the forest floor?
It has become no secret that our species has long forgotten the medicines that Mother Earth provides us. As we trek through the 21st century we are constantly being reminded of the vital knowledge that nourished generations before us. Before the heavy hands of pharmaceuticals ruled our communities. Before those licensed to care for our health became indoctrinated, conditioned to step in line.
We are in a time where the idea of holism and health is moving full circle. The global acceptance of complimentary treatments are racing to the top, scientific research in tow. From ancient herbal remedies to energetic methodologies, we are welcoming the rebirth of our relationship with natural wonders.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that many of us have been feeling pulled closer to the natural world in recent days. Untouched earth has always been a safe place for me, but due to the media overload and heavy energy of the collective I feel a sense of urgency to spend more of my time technologically disconnected in these places.
As clients and friends alike come to me with similar notions, searching for advice on how to alleviate high levels of stress and anxiety (which in turn dampens the immune system), I have found myself sharing some knowledge behind Shinrin - Yoku, also known as Forest Bathing.
I want to visit an excerpt from one of my favorite books on this topic, written by Dr. Qing Li;
"The concept that humans have a biological need to connect with nature has been called biophilia, from the Greek, meaning 'love of life and the living world'. The concept was made popular by the American biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984. He believed that, because we evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it. We love nature because we learned to love the things that helped us to survive. We feel comfortable in nature because that is where we have lived for most of our life on Earth. We are genetically determined to love the natural world. It is in our DNA.
And this affinity for the natural world is fundamental to our health. Contact with nature is as vital to our well-being as regular exercise and a healthy diet. 'Our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents,' wrote Wilson. We are 'hard-wired' to affiliate with the natural world -- and just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are divorced from it."
It is in the above text where all the data, all the intimidating verbiage and mathematics are boiled down to one simple fact. We are of the Earth.
For those who want to dive a little deeper on the subject, here are a few facts to help you understand why your time among the trees is so beneficial.
Of all our senses, the sense of smell is the most primal. When walking through the forest, we often find ourselves deepening our breath to inhale the aromatherapy that the plant's produce. But it is the chemicals that produce the aroma that are most helpful.
Phytoncides are the natural oils within a plant that are part of the tree's defense system. Trees release them to protect against bacteria, insects and fungi. Research has shown that in subjects who regularly inhaled these phytoncides, both NK cell activity and the presence of anti-cancer proteins had all increased. In additon to this, those involved also showed significantly decreased levels of stress hormones, increased hours of sleep, and decreased scores for tension/anxiety, anger/hostility and fatigue/confusion.
In further testing, it became apparent that these same phytoncides can stimulate a pleasant mood, significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate, increase heart-rate variability, and suppress sympathetic nervous activity and increase parasympathetic nervous activity, bringing your nervous system into balance and making you feel comfortable and relaxed.
As if this wasn't enough, there is also a substance in soil that we breathe in when we walk in the forest, garden, or eat a vegetable plucked from the ground which makes us feel happier. This is a common and harmless bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae.
The benefits of this specific microbe was discovered by accident by Dr. Mary O'Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. Through a study concerning lung cancer, it was found that this microbe when injected significantly improved patient quality of life. Her patients reported feeling more positive and having higher energy levels and better cognitive functioning.
Later on Bristol University (UK) performed experiments with mice and found the mice behaved as though they were on antidepressants. It was through this serendipitous account that doctors realized the neurons that were activated were those associated with the immune system, which suggested that there is a close connection between the immune system and our emotions.
Combine these factors with the sound, sight and touch therapies that the natural world provides, and you may find yourself a missing piece of your recipe for a healthy body and a peaceful mind.
Now for my favorite part - the electromagnetic currents that we receive from the Earth's field.
To deliver you as much necessary information in as little words as possible, I'd like to quote a paragraph from one of my text's by James L. Oschman, Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis;
"In the late nineteenth century, a back-to-nature movement in Germany claimed that being barefoot outdoors produced many health benefits, even in cold weather (Just, 1903). In the 1920's, George Starr White, a medical doctor, investigated the practice of sleeping grounded after being informed by some individuals that they could not sleep properly 'unless they were on the ground or connected to the ground in some way', as with copper wires attached to grounded-to-Earth water, gas, or radiator pipes. White (1929) reported improved sleeping using these techniques. However, these ideas never caught on in mainstream society.
Modern research, to be described next, has documented the following effects of grounding or Earthing, in the order in which they were discovered:
improved sleep, reduced pain, reduced inflammation, relaxation (autonomic nervous system), accelerated healing of injuries, increased heart rate variability, less clumping of red blood cells, reduced blood viscosity."
Not to overly simplify the subject, but it is both the absorption of the Earth's negative ions and energetic frequency that balances our overtly positive charged cells and encourages equilibrium within the body by simply placing bare hands or feet on the ground. The effects are noticeable as a sense of calm and serenity slowly takes over your entire being. It is the same feeling we receive when standing near a large body of water or opening the windows when it rains. The ion neutralization from the water has similar effects and in turn, assists our body in certain healing processes.
The frequencies measured from the Earth's field have been recognized, and in some medical fields are duplicated through machines to use in clinical settings. It is with this information and more that we start to understand the truths behind our intuitive behaviors. We do not need to be surrounded by acres of untouched forest, or miles of open sea to receive the love that this Earth has to offer us. A simple patch of ground between our doorstep and the pavement, essential oils diffused in our homes, or a babbling brook that runs through our local park.
The Earth exists as an active resource for our health and well being. There are indisputable physical and spiritual connections between human beings and our planet of residence. In my opinion Khalil Gibran said it best, "And forget not that the Earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." We are not on this planet, but of it. And I am forever grateful, for every time I come home.