In Forest Bathing, by Dr. Qing Li, he discusses two ways that we pay attention. The first is voluntary, which we use when we are doing things requiring concentration like writing and email or driving a car.
He explains the other way we pay attention, “The second ‘involuntary’, sometimes called ‘soft fascination’, which I think is a lovely expression. Involuntary attention requires no mental effort, it just comes naturally. This is the kind of attention we use when wea rein nature. In nature, our minds are captured effortlessly by clouds and sunsets, but the movement of leaves in the breeze, by waterfalls and streams, by the sound of the birds or the whisper of the wind. These soothing sights and sounds give our mental resources a break. They allow our minds to wander and to reflect, and so restore our capacity to think more clearly.
Dr. Qing Li writes about the benefits of a common bacteria found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. M. vaccae is not only harmless to us, but it is actually beneficial. We can experience its benefits while forest bathing (provided we touch the forest ground) or while working in our gardens. No wonder it feels so good to dig in the dirt!
Li writes, “. . the soil stimulates the immune system, and a boosted immune system makes us feel happy. Every time you dig in your garden or eat a vegetable plucked from the ground, you will be ingesting M. vaccae and giving yourself this boost.”
I think that this a reason why we are so eager for the Spring thaw. We need to get ourselves in the dirt. Maybe this winter we can stick our hands in our house plants in order to get a little soil buzz.
When we walk in the woods, we breathe in the most magnificent scents from the trees. These scents include the very important phytoncides.
In his book, “Forest Bathing”, Dr. Qing Li writes, “As well as having a higher concentration of oxygen, the air in the forest is also full of phytoncides. Phytoncides are the natural oils within a plant and are part of a tree’s defence system. Trees release phytoncides to protect them from bacteria, insects and fungi.”
Phytoncides have been shown to have positive effects on us as well! These include: improving anticancer proteins, lowering stress hormones, helping us to sleep, decreasing stress, and improving mood among other positive effects.
So, breathe deeply while walking in the woods - especially around evergreens.
Forest Bathing can be really good for your health! According to Dr. Qing Li’s book "Forest Bathing", forest bathing can:
For me personally, I definitely have experienced the positive effects on stress, depression, and energy. When life gets hairy, I go for a walk in the woods and it helps. Still I need to learn how to develop a more consistent forest bathing practice!
A few weeks ago, Pat and I took a long walk in the woods, and the entire thing went like this cartoon. It was still lovely, but sometimes I understand why people are not leaping into the woods for hiking. There definitely can be uncomfortable moments.
I finished off my walking stick! I decided to woodburn the name with some basic design decorations, and I tied on a woven strap from a Peruvian purse for some color.
I was struggling to come up with a name. So, I turned to my Medicine Cards (by Jamie Sams and David Carson) for inspiration. I pulled the Badger card, which I tend to pull frequently. So, I decided to trust that I needed Badger medicine in my walks. Badger is about aggressiveness, but it is also about being an aggressive healer. Badger people do not give up. Sams writes, “Remember that Badger may be signalling a time when you can use your healing abilities to push ahead in life. Heal yourself by aggressively removing the barriers that don’t ‘grow corn’. Cut away the dead wood and use Badger’s aggression to seek new levels of expression.” Turns out that this is EXACTLY what I need right now. The cards always seem to know. Okay, good bye! Back to getting rid of the corn that does not grow!!!
I've written a bit about the fallen oaks that have traumatized my heart. I know intellectually that their falling literally makes way for new growth, but it is hard to let go of those who stand greatly around us.
So, I decided to honor one of the oaks by making a walking stick from its limb.
Making walking sticks are a resourceful and useful project, which many ages can participate in (as you will see below). I do believe that since we were children we have connection to sticks. There seems to be no greater toy. So, whether we need support while hiking, or a means to dismantle webs while, or just want to hold a great tree in your hand, find a stick and make it your own.
Below is Part One of preparing my walking stick. I want to give the wood some more time to dry before woodburning and finishing it.
First we hiked to where the tree, with two trunks had fallen.
Then, I chose a limb, which Pat cut down and trimmed with a chainsaw.
Back at home, I cleaned off the bark using a carving knife.
All cleaned up! I am letting it dry before sanding and woodburning it.
I enjoy the faces and marks that you discover by stirpping the bark.
Yesterday, Abe deided to make one for Pen. He chose a honeysuckle limb, and Pen made a friendship bracelet for it.
The concept of Biophilia originated with the biologist E. O. Wilson. Wilson believed that because we evolved in nature, we are deeply integrated with it, and so have a genetic urgency to connect with nature.
In his book, Forest Bathing, Dr. Qing Li writes with regard to Biophilia, “And this affinity for the natural world is fundamental to our health. Contact with nature as vital to our well-being as regular exercise and a healthy diet . . . and just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are divorced from it.”
What are your thoughts about biophilia? Do you feel divorced from nature?
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.