Tap Into the Therapeutic Power of the Forest

By Mark Ellison, Ed.D.

What do you do that gives you energy, that fuels your ability to work and play? Do you have anything? Do you escape from the stress of life to allow your mind, body and spirit to heal?

There are so many benefits to our health from spending time in nature, particularly forests. Research has found that spending time in forests can increase attention capacity and creativity, lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and improve mood.

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Sunset from the Waterrock Knob Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway (NC)

Are you tapping into the power of the forest as part of your plan to improve your health? It is a key ingredient that could take your health to the next level. It is the multiplier. If you are walking, biking, relaxing in an urban environment, then  you are getting health benefits. If you do the same in a natural setting like a forest, the benefits are multiplied because of the restorative aspects of nature that impact the body and brain, that are not present in urban settings.

The power of the forest can help you at work, school or home. The more time the better, but try to squeeze in 30 minutes to an hour each week and then gradually increase.The power lies in the ability to experience solitude free (mostly) from noise created by humans. You can enjoy the sound of a waterfall, a bird chirping, or the exhilaration of watching a sunset. These benefits, called soft fascination, allow your attention capacity to rest. Much like muscles after working out, attention becomes fatigued and inhibits the the ability to focus.

My challenge to you is next week find a “sit spot” and spend 30 minutes there. Write about what you are experiencing. Draw. Allow yourself to connect with nature. Enjoy the experience and let me know how it goes!

 

 

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The power of the forest is dying as natural silence goes extinct

It was in the forest that I found the peace that passeth understanding.”  Jane Goodall

Silence. Does the thought of if scare you or give you a sense of inner peace? Can you recall the last time you experienced silence? Have you ever?

The healing power of nature impacts, the mind, body and spirit. Research studies demonstrate this, and many of us know this intuitively. One of the primary attributes of nature that provides health benefits is the freedom from human created noise. Half the world’s population now lives in busy, loud urban settings, many not knowing the peace and healing that natural silence offers.

Gordon Hempton, acoustic ecologist, and  founder of One Square Inch of Silence in Hoh Rain Forest, believes that natural silence is going extinct. In an interview on PBS On Being, he indicated that he was aware of only 12 remaining places that offered natural silence of at least 15 minutes. I visited the Hoh Rain Forest several years ago and it is by far one of the most enchanting and peaceful places I have ever been. Hempton has worked tirelessly to help preserve quiet there.

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Standing Indian Mountain (North Carolina)

It seems as though the delicate balancing act between economic growth and preserving natural places for escape has been a struggle for centuries. This has become increasingly important now as our world population continues to expand, demanding more resources, with further urbanization, which creates relentless cascades of noise. The United States has had an on again. off again approach to protecting nature. Over the past eight years many natural areas have been protected. Unfortunately, we are now entering a time when those governing  the country apparently are cynical and uncaring towards the incredible importance of nature to our health, instead advancing legislation to make national parks, forests and wilderness areas more accessible to developers by handing the land over to states. We need more natural areas for recreation, not fewer as the United States and world populations continue to increase. Once these places are developed we are not getting them back. 

The absence of noise is not a luxury. Studies have found that increases in noise are associated with increased crime, stress levels,  and numerous other associated health problems. As a society it seems as though we have become obsessed with creating noise, and needing to have noise to feel safe. How many people do you know that have to always have a television on, have ear buds to listen to music, or be talking?

I am interested in your feedback. Do you value silence? Are you comfortable with it? Where do you go to experience it? How do you benefit from the experience?