To live vigorously and luxuriantly, to flourish
As an alternative health care professional, I have always looked to prevention and health maintenance over taking drugs for symptoms. In my capacity as a wellness coach, I’ve guided many towards healthier eating habits and physical activity. However, the most rewarding and sometimes most unexpected results came from helping my clients, as well as myself, address the emotion side of the health triangle.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order”
St. Francis of Assisi was a beautiful SOUL who innately understood being one with nature. His ability to radiate unconditional love allowed animals to fearlessly approach him and return his love in kind.
We’ve all felt it. The way ocean waves seem to calm the anxieties and stresses of daily life. Or how the walk in the woods, hearing the birdsong and the silence between the leaves rustling can bring about a calm more hopeful feeling.
In fact, “natural silence” (or sounds made only by nature) is such a precious commodity that the National Park Services has a protection order on it. We innately prefer nature’s silence and in it begin to hear God.
“Be still and know that I am God”
In 1984, before smart phones, iPad and Alexa, the emerging technology just with home computers and television was enough to coin the phrase, “techno stress”. American biologist, E.O. Wilson while studying “techno stress” wrote that because we evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it. Known as the biophilia hypothesis (Greek meaning “love of life and the living world), it was postulated that we are genetically predisposed to “NEEDING” nature for our well-being.
Over 30 years later and an onslaught of excessive personal tech exposure, the medical profession started to finally recognized this possible health concern. In 2016, Joseph Tacy PhD, RN wrote that “technostress” is an emergent psychological disorder that must now be applied to nursing education.
Hippocrates taught “illnesses do not come upon us out of the blue. They are developed from small daily sins against nature. When enough sins have accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear”.
The desire to revitalize our small cities along with social media, seems to have encouraged young couples to live near (walking distance) the convenience of great restaurants, bars and shopping despite the exorbitant costs. This economic push has only exacerbated the culture of excessive work and hours spent inside to afford this lifestyle. It is estimated that by 2050, 75% of the projected 9 billion of the world population will live in cities.
A University of Melbourne study demonstrated that it only takes 40 seconds of looking out a window at a natural scene to help bring back focus and alertness. Just imagine the stress created by working on a computer in a cubicle in a building in the city. Similar studies showed that patients in hospital rooms with a view were much more relaxed and seemed to recover more quickly.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts”
In Dr. Qing Li’s book, “Forest Bathing”, he shares a study on how our emotions are affected by color. The study suggests that the grays of urban scenes tend to makes us unhappy and more aggressive. Consider how you feel stuck on a highway during rush hour. While nature’s greens and blues are soothing, restful and calming.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
In almost all health circles, STRESS is considered the number one killer. Emotional, physical and chemical stress are ongoing in our modern lifestyle and mostly unavoidable. Dr. Li also shares his discovery that just one 2 hour “forest bathing” trip per month can raise your NK (natural killer) cell activity as much as 53%. Furthermore, it is maintained for the entire 30 days.
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
Additionally, Dr. Li’s research shows that just by looking at nature’s “patterns” such as “fractals”, one can reduce stress by as much as 60%. At the same time, it creates a sense of awe. “It causes us to look beyond ourselves and ponder possibilities”.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous”
Have you ever wondered why we are drawn to the oceans and waterfalls? Their beauty yes but, what is it that makes us “feel more alive” in their presence? If you are also auditory you might appreciate the sound of running water as it is part of the “natural silence”. However, there is much more to crashing waves than beauty and sound. They produce NEGATIVE IONS.
Negative ions in nature and in our bodies are essential to our health and well-being. Negative ions are simply oxygen atoms with extra negatively charged electrons (antioxidants). Whereas positive ions have lost one or more electrons (oxidants). When we carry excess positive ions in our body without adequate negative ions to balance them, disease occurs. Once again nature provides what we need to remain healthy.
In nature, negative ions are most abundant in waterfalls, ocean surf at the beach and even in the air after a storm. A waterfall, for example, can contain as many as 100,000 negative ions per cubic centimeter compared to only a few hundred per cubic centimeter in the air of your typical enclosed room. Science has proven that NEGATIVE IONS:
However, one of the best benefits of nature’s negative ions is that they clear the air of allergens. Not only can they rid the air of pollen, mold spores, bacteria and viruses but, they also clear the air of dust, pet dander and cigarette smoke.
“They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming.”
The Colorado Rockies were my first experience with the awe and majesty of one of nature’s slowly crafted mountain ranges. Sitting at the shore of a lake, taking in the grandeur of a snow-capped mountain, surrounded by forest of evergreens and golden aspens left me speechless. I’m not sure how anyone could feel anything but peace, awe and gratitude.
In the 1920s, going to really high altitudes were a popular way to lose weight. Recently, a 2013 study showed that living at sea level is associated with a four to five times higher risk of obesity, compared with people living at the highest altitudes in Colorado. Another study suggests that just a week in higher altitudes can stimulate weight loss.
The human body is so adaptable that in high altitude, lower oxygen, certain genes seem to “turn on” and redirect the way the heart muscle functions. This research concluded that those who live at higher altitudes also have a lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease.
Despite the “thin” air at higher elevations a walk in the mountains is known to ease asthma and prevent acute respiratory symptoms. Some speculate that the fresh scent of evergreen and pine which is known to help relieve bronchial inflammation may play a part. Additionally, studies suggest that walking through pine decreases hostility, depression and stress.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find that going to the mountains is going home; the wilderness is a necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as FOUNTAINS OF LIFE.”
John Muir 1901
In her book, “Move Your DNA”, Katy Bowman, M.S. demonstrates how our movements have a direct effect on our DNA. She explains the health changing benefits of focusing on proper movement throughout your day verses 1 hour a day “exercising”. In her research she has found that our health and physical structures such as ankles, knees and hips can benefit more from a non-manicured path rather than a paved park path. I have personally found this to be true for me. While living in Florida and walking the flat streets of my neighborhood, I experienced for the first time – bunions, ankle sprains and knee pain. Now that I hike the rocky, hilly terrain back in the Ozarks of Missouri, I have been pain and sprain free.
This is not to discourage regular exercise but to encourage better movement especially outdoors. Your body will certainly benefit from the treadmill verses sitting on the sofa. In fact, your entire health profile will benefit much more if you took a walk in the woods or on the beach.
Eckhart Tolle, in his book “A New Earth” reveals an awareness that cannot be found in parks and perfectly landscaped settings. He explains that the perfect order of a manicured park can easily calm our senses but does so because it is “comfortable” to our thinking mind.
“In the forest, there is incomprehensible order that to the mind looks like chaos. It is beyond the mental categories of good and bad. You cannot understand it through thought, but you can sense it when you let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain. Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest.”
AFTERNOON OF LIFE
I began my adult life in the late 70’s. After having a baby, I would attend aerobics classes at the local members only workout club and sometimes twice a day. But I was not a healthy person. Being married to a chiropractor and knowing the basics of better nutrition kept me mostly symptom free. However, as I aged, I had to do more than workout and avoid red meat.
My last 20 years have been quite transformative. I have learned much and am still learning. I am in the best shape I’ve been in since my 20’s. I eat a primarily raw diet (70-80%) and I do not belong to a gym or the YMCA. I do hike every day the weather allows and I am very conscious of my time sitting.
I have also diligently explored my beliefs that I know have caused me harm. Being in nature, especially alone, has made the cleansing of these harmful habits much easier. Though I am retired from wellness coaching; I am still an avid explorer and student.
“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and ideas will serve as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of our life according to the program of life’s morning. For what was great in the morning will be little at the evening and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie”
The Stages of Life