Stressed out? Let nature calm you down.
For the past ten years I have taken a small group of people into the woods for a seven-day retreat in the fall. Every year, I am amazed at the healing effects of this. By the end of the week, everyone is blissful, at peace and alive in ways they were not when they arrived.
Each year, at least one person experiences a radical, life-changing shift. They have the tools to endure suffering better than they have in the past.
Now Japanese scientific studies prove that “forest bathing” or taking a walk in the woods, can have a profound effect on the immune system and the elimination of stress and anxiety. Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University and the head researcher on the project, said, “humans had lived in nature for 5 million years. We were made to fit a natural environment. So we feel stress in an urban area…When we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to how they should be.” In fact, “forest bathing” is a standard preventative medicine in Japan for those at risk of stress-induced diseases.
I grew up on a 500-acre farm in the mid-west. I learned very early how a plant, one maple tree in particular, was often a more nurturing presence than my mom, who grew up during World War I and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
For years, I spent many hours lying in the leafy green shade of my maple tree nanny’s peaceful branches. The very memory of those times calms me even some sixty years later.
I have also lived in cities, like New York and Portland, ME, but now I have returned to nature. My home is not on a 500-acre farm; it is less than an acre, but it includes a grove of towering white pine trees, a vegetable garden of 22 raised beds, a garden of perennial herbs and flowers, and a small orchard of an ancient apple tree and younger peach, pear, apricot and quince trees.
The greatest benefit of these plants is the sensation each morning when I open the door and step out into their presence and feel their radiant aliveness. I can’t imagine ever again being without this in my life.
Trees and plants operate on a much slower time scale than animals do, and perhaps they are teaching us to be smarter by slowing down our mind and allow our thoughts to happen at a much steadier pace. When the thinking chatter stops and I experience a solid inner silence, I am able to make much better decisions and trust myself more.
So I am deeply grateful for the many plant therapists and mentors in my life who modeled this deep profound level of consciousness.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: My Therapist Is a Tree.