Forest therapy to restore the mind and body

 

 

Tropical rainforest, Queensland

Tropical rainforest, Queensland

The Japanese practice wellness with a method called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. This type of forest therapy essentially means to experience nature through the five senses. The idea is to go into a forest and walk mindfully, using all your senses.

The Japanese are among the most stressed people in the developed world. They work the longest hours, they have the world’s third highest suicide rate and are highly competitive at school and in their jobs. The government was so concerned about the stress levels of the population that they initiated a study into the healing properties of forests. And the term ‘‘Shinrin-yoku’’ and its concept were introduced by the Japanese Forest Agency in 1982.

According to studies, forest therapy not only relieves stress, anxiety and depression, it improves cognition, and even raises empathy levels.

Galahs in the forest

Galahs in the Adelaide Hills

Environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have demonstrated that contact with nature restores attention, and promotes recovery from mental fatigue and the restoration of mental focus. (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995).

Even though the majority of the world’s populations live in cities, from an evolutionary perspective, we know that humans have an innate affinity with nature. People talk about ‘getting away’ to the country, the ocean, or the mountains, to unwind and relax.

Sure, taking a stroll through the forest will be a calming experience, but if you want to lower your salivary cortisol concentration (an indicator of stress levels), reduce your anger, fatigue or tension, then spending a few hours in therapy —that’s forest therapy—may be just what you need.

 

Experiencing nature through the five senses:

  • Listen to the sound of nature – birdsong, the sound of the wind in the trees, water in a creek, leaves rustling under your feet.
  • Smell the scents around you – the perfume of flowers, the smell of the eucalypts or pine needles, the fecundity of decaying leaves.
  • Feel the sunshine coming though the forest canopy, rain on your skin, the texture of leaves and bark of the trees.
  • Enjoy the sight of tall trees, the various shades of green of the shrubs and leaves, the different hues in the rocks and colours in the wildlife, watch a butterfly or bee going about their daily business of pollination.
  • Drink some forest tea. The needles of spruce or pine trees make delicious infusions with the added value of vitamins and antioxidants. Take a small flask of boiled water with you and just add nature!

forest

Researchers have found that the benefits of a few hours of forest bathing can last for more than 7 days. If you can’t get out of the concrete jungle, take a long, slow walk through your nearest park, open your eyes and ears, touch some leaves and smell the flowers. It’s guaranteed to bring down your blood pressure, restore your mind and relax your body.

Good reasons to meditate

Kangaroo Island, Australia

“We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation, we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. In other words, meditation gives us not only the light of insight but also the power for expansive change.”

– Julia Cameron

 

Birdsong, an antidote to our noisy world

bird on a branchIf you’re feeling stressed, anxious or not as productive as you’d like, it could be because of the noisy world we live in. According to the World Health Organisation, noise is second only to air pollution as a cause of environmental ill-health. Studies show that noise also increases aggressive behaviour and worsens depression.

On the other side of the scale, the sounds of nature — birdsong in particular — have been shown to have a calming effect on the body and mind.

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that we are attracted and enchanted by the sound of birds. He attributes humans love of birdsong to our intrinsic biophilia — an inborn need to connect with nature and other living beings.

Nature soundscapes, including water, birdsong and wind are beneficial for our emotional well-being, can increase our happiness and improve our cognitive abilities. Scientists say that listening to birdsong especially, is physically relaxing and cognitively stimulating.

 

Vivaldi was inspired by birdsong to compose the beautiful Four Seasons which features songbirds in his Spring Concerto.

Apart from beautiful music, there are other examples of the positive effects of listening to birdsong.

The Mayor of Lancaster, a city in California, claims that birdsong has had a calming effect on the citizens of his city. He’s installed loudspeakers playing birdsong through the city centre and says that it has reduced crime by 15 percent.

Birdsong has also been used as a therapeutic tool. At the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, an installation of birdsong by sound recordist Chris Watson has had a calming effect on patients. Staff say that listening to the birdsong has been successful in reducing stress in young patients going into surgery.

Birdsong soundscapes have been installed in a school in Liverpool.  Teachers say that it makes students more alert and able to concentrate better.

Even airports are using birdsong — Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam plays birdsong in their lounge area to relax passengers before their flights.

Galah’s, Adelaide Hills

Galahs, Adelaide Hills

The special thing about birdsong, says Julian Treasure, chairman of noise consultancy The sound Agency, is that it creates a state of “body relaxed, mind alert”.

Of course, the best way to experience birdsong is in the natural environment. But failing that, listening through your earphones is also beneficial. This is especially good for people who work in open plan offices, where according to Julian Treasure, loss of productivity due to noise can be up to 67%.

So if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or a bit grumpy, take a walk in your local park and listen to the sound of nature, or plug in your earphones and listen to a birdsong soundtrack. It’s a great antidote to our noisy world. It will lift your spirits, make you feel closer to nature and will increase your productivity.

What is meditation?

meditating in natureAlthough meditation began in ancient eastern cultures as part of religious practice or tradition, meditation entered the mainstream in the west in the sixties. Although at its core, meditation is still seen as a spiritual practice, it is now widely practiced to enhance our health and well-being.

In 2007 a survey by the US National Center for Health Statistics found that more than 20 million people in the US practiced meditation in the previous 12 months. According to the research, people used meditation to help overcome a variety of health issues including stress, pain, anxiety, insomnia and depression. In addition, many practiced meditation for overall wellness. [1]

People are searching for ways to improve their physical health and their emotional well-being. They want to change their lives, be calmer, improve their relationships, feel more confident, reduce stress and find inner peace.

The term meditation refers to many techniques, but essentially it is a practice of focusing attention, or focusing the mind.

Salzberg says that meditation is training our attention so that we can be be more aware — not only of our inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now. [2]

Meditation can be as simple as focusing on a single object, like our breath. Some people use mantras (a sound, word or phrase which is repeated). But there are other ways which can help us concentrate — such as music, sounds or beats.

Still, many of us find it difficult to train our attention (or concentrate) and we give up. But we can all breathe, so even if we are distracted for a moment, if we are able to bring our focus back to the breath, we are on our way to learning how to stay in the moment.

Research has found that sound or music helps us concentrate. Audio technologies which produce audio stimuli have been developed to assist in meditation practice. Known as brainwave entrainment, it is a simple method of listening to separate beats or tones in each ear through earphones. Our brains decode these sounds and our brainwave frequencies start to sync with the beats or tones.

Over time, this stimulation on the brain—a different type of meditation practice—produces the same beneficial physiological and emotional effects as traditional meditation techniques and practice.

However, meditation should not be seen as a one-off activity that will generate feelings of well-being after just one session. It doesn’t work that way. Establishing a regular practice (even 5 minutes per day) of focusing our attention, allows us to steady our minds and let go of distractions — which in turn helps us be in the moment. This being in the moment, or awareness of the here and now is termed being mindful.

Mindfulness, says Sharon Salzberg ‘entails giving purposeful, non-judgemental attention to whatever arises in the present moment’. She suggests that everyday activities such as drinking tea, brushing teeth or walking could be used as practice in mindfulness.

This type of meditation practice, of paying attention to each aspect of an activity by using all the senses, helps us focus our attention on the present moment.

Through regular meditation practice, we find that our lives become more harmonious, we feel happier, less stressed, less anxious. We are able to concentrate better at work and school, boost our immunity and cope better with pain.

In short, meditation helps us to live fulfilling, happy lives with the ability to care for ourselves and others with loving kindness.

Sources

http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

Salzberg, Sharon, 2011 Real happiness, the power of meditation Workman Publishing, NY