Our species emerged from our ancestors in the natural world around 200,000 years ago. In contrast, “civilization” has only existed for 6000 years and industrialization only for 200 years. For 99% of our history we evolved while living in small tribes in direct contact with nature.
Gaia, in all her wisdom, optimized our biology and health to response to our natural environments: the sounds, sights, smells, and natural rhythms of our home in forests, jungles, and savannas.
We have only had less than 1% of our evolutionary history to adapt to computers, automobiles, and our unrelenting pace of life.
Through this recent loss of our connection to the natural world, we have lost much more than simple pleasant sights and sounds; we have lost our health and a large portion of our sanity.
We need to reclaim our connection to nature and a sane pace of life.
In Japan, nature connection is called “Shinrin-yoku” or “Forest Bathing”. The Japanese government has allocated more than $4 million to scientific on nature connection. For many years, this research has continued and the evidence of positive health benefits has increased.
Some of the surprising conclusions of these research studies include:
Enhanced immune response from exposure to the volatile oils emitted by forest trees. [Li 2009-1]
Lower stress hormones and blood pressure [Park] [Tyrväinen]; the higher the stress level the greater the effect. [Morita]
Reduced hostility and depression. [Morita]
The induction of anticancer proteins. [Li 2009-2]
Even here in Hawai’i, considered one of the healthier places to live, our hamster-wheel stress levels adversely impact our health and well being.
As a professional acupuncturist and herbalist at the Mindful Living Group, one of the things that I find extremely rewarding is to go out and gather wild edible and medicinal plants with my students and patients on a regular basis. Not only do these practices reduce our levels of stress, but the plants supply us with a rich source of phytochemicals and microminerals that we can supplement a healthy diet.
Plant resources grow in abundance all around us; they are truly an untapped resource. And ironically, many of our local “weed pests” can be made into powerful medicines and nutritious meal. So we can benefit our native Hawaiian ecosystems by repurposing these invasive plant species.
Once we have ascertained that we are not gathering in areas that might be polluted, we follow traditional protocols involving meditation and/or mindfulness practices that further increase our sense of well being and peace of mind.
But, having said all that, you do not need to go out and learn botany or wild edibles in order to reap the benefits of nature connection. Simply setting time aside to walk in nature or go on an occasional picnic can do wonders to enhance your quality of life.
Make this a priority and you will rapidly reclaim some of our evolutionary benefits that our ancestors knew millennia ago.
David Bruce Leonard, MS, L.Ac., is a practitioner at the Mindful Living Group in Kihei and the founder of the Earth Medicine Institute.
Li Q, Kobayashi M, et al. 2009-1. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. Oct-Dec;22(4):951-9.
Li Q, 2009-2. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 15:68
Morita E, Fukuda S, et al. 2007. Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health. Jan; 121(1) 54-63.
Park BJ1, Tsunetsugu Y, et al. 2010. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. Jan;15(1):18-26.
Tyrväinen L, Ojala A, et al. 2014. The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Jun; 38 1-9.