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.


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!



The Importance of Solitude

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William Deresiewicz penned an excellent article last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education about “the end of solitude”  (http://chronicle.com/article/The-End-of-Solitude/3708).

Experiencing solitude, ideally in nature, is a wonderful way to rest  attention capacities, and reflect on life. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan (1989), faculty at the University of Michigan,  explain the importance of attention restoration that time in nature provides. They describe how the resting of voluntary, or directed attention (attention that requires effort to stay focused) is possible when we are in natural environments that offer “soft fascination” such as bird songs, waterfalls, views of sunsets and the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Environments that offer soft fascination allow directed attention to rest, and involuntary attention to become active. Involuntary attention does not require effort. This relaxing of the mind can have many psychological benefits, and provides opportunities for reflection.

Those of us who spend time in nature can help to re-introduce a culture that has become disconnected from it. Technology and the pace of urban life now consume many people who are addicted to instant access to information and constant connectivity. We can help others understand that there is value in  nature, that it  provides unique opportunities to experience solitude, and to reflect.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.