The Healing Nature of, well … Nature

posted in: Mindfulness | 0

As a Mindfulness Guide, I have the best job EVER, if you can even call it a job.

It wasn’t too long ago that most people would have written that off as some airy-fairy, woo-woo, pseudo-science bunk (and many still do), but mindfulness has come into the mainstream lately, in part because of the huge number of reputable, scientific studies finding a myriad of health benefits associated with mindfulness practices. Don’t believe me? Google it, and you’ll find everyone from Harvard to Psychology Today reporting on it.

Here in the Central Sierra, we are at a special advantage because when you combine mindfulness practices with nature, you get a double whammy of benefits. So, for me, when I’m in particular need of healing, the woods is where I go. The sounds of the breeze blowing through the treetops, water tumbling over rocks, birdsong, the sights and smells of all that surrounds me is soothing. And it is more than that, something that is unseen, unheard that reaches into my soul. When I’m out in the forest, I can just stop thinking, quieting my mind and bringing me peace. As naturalist John Burroughs so aptly said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.”

The nurturing effect of nature spans both physical and emotional healing. Numerous studies reveal that within minutes of being outdoors, surrounded by nature, you experience less stress as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity. Memory performance and attention span improves by 20% after spending just an hour interacting with nature. And there is a dramatic increase in natural killer cells, those white blood cells that are vital to your immune system, after just two consecutive days in nature.

All this is why I love to connect with our natural surroundings through mindfulness. I offer three experiences to do just that. I’ll share those with you today and expand on each of them in future articles.

Forest Bathing
This is a big deal right now. Well, it’s always been a big deal, it’s just that more people are discovering it. I especially love this one, because, once you experience it, you will have a deeper appreciation for our forests and understand the need to protect it.

The term Forest Bathing might bring to mind ideas of sitting in a stream or swimming in a lake, with big trees surrounding you. While that’s not quite what we’re talking about here, it’s really not too far off. Think of the forest itself as your bath, with its flora and fauna, wind and water, earth and sky. Forest Bathing is a fully immersive practice, using all your senses to connect more deeply with the surrounding environment. It may or may not include water, just know that’s not a required element of forest bathing.

A lot has been written about Forest Bathing, but it’s really something you have to experience. I offer Forest Bathing experiences to groups as a way to deeply connect to the forest that I love. Deeper connection leads to deeper appreciation for the land and the environment.

LabyrinthLabyrinth Walks
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that has been used by many cultures and evidence of labyrinth use dates back 4,000 years to ancient cave drawings in Spain. While some may mistake a labyrinth for a maze, the two couldn’t be more opposite. A maze is intended to get you lost with its many twists, turns, blind alleys and dead ends. It confuses you and leads to stress. A labyrinth is a reflective path to one’s center. There is only one path in to the center, and the same path is used to return. As long as you follow the path, you can’t get lost. It is said that the point of a maze is to find its center. The point of a labyrinth is to find your center.

There are many labyrinths being used around the world in parks, hospitals, churches, schools, prisons and on private property. I received extensive training in labyrinth facilitation so that you can more fully experience the benefits of this mindfulness tool.

Retreats
A good retreat offers just the right mix of activities and down time and it’s not “one size fits all.” Whether it’s a one day mini-retreat or a full week long experience, I am always sure to mix in plenty of both. This is a great time to gather your friends and rent a cabin together. I’ll take care of the rest, including food, activities, meditation and workshops. I spend time with you in advance ensuring you have an experience you’ll never forget.

The great thing is about all of these practices is that it’s accessible to everyone, no matter your ability level, age, race, or belief system. You’ll get the most benefits with an experienced guide, but if that isn’t an option for you because of location or resources, give it a try alone. Nature exists where ever you are, just take a look around.

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