The Healing Effects of Forests

 

Welcome to this week’s wisdom for the Inner and Outer You.

Hello wisdom and adventure seekers! As a reminder this weekend coming there will be a Morning Meditation session at Terry Hodgkinson’s office. Please email or phone to register your spot as space is limited.

We just had a long weekend here due to the holiday known as Family Day. So I decided to drive out and spend some time with my mother, sister and brother-in-law. This week’s blog article is about the the forest and the walk we took with Aggie girl, my sister’s dog. There are a lot of great forest facts and their healing properties, something I’m sure most people don’t know about so be sure to read this article. It could be the very thing that makes a difference to the health and quality of your life.  Namaste.

The Healing Effects of Forests

By Terry Hodgkinson

The night before as I was leaving my sister’s place to return to my mother’s, I looked at the thermometer and it read – 20 degrees. In other words it was darn cold outside. My sister, brother-in-law and mother live in a highly forested area close to a town called Dunnville near Lake Erie.

Being the Family Day holiday long weekend I decided to go down and spend some time with them all. My mother had just gotten over a severe cold which didn’t mesh well with her COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) condition. A few times my sister had to bring her into the hospital emerge and get her immediate assistance for her intense difficulty with breathing. Eventually she overcame the cold and I could go and visit. I had a bit of a cold earlier on too and the last thing I wanted to do was pass it on to her, so I waited for the right time.

My Sister's Dog, Aggie www.InnerOuterYou.com

My Sister’s Dog, Aggie
www.InnerOuterYou.com

On the Holiday Monday morning, my brother-in-law Graham said he was taking their bull dog named Aggie for a walk deep into the forest and asked if I was interested in coming. Most people who know me or have read my book, know that I love forests, so it wasn’t hard to get me to say yes.

The interesting thing about forests is that your experience with them will be different depending on the season. Being winter it seemed as if we were walking on a never ending white carpet. As there were no leaves on the trees you could see this white floor stretch on forever through the naked trees. With each step you could hear the loud CRUNCH, CRUNCH our boots made. When we stopped for a minute, we were treated with incredible silence and the stillness of a perfect sunny winter day amongst thousands of trees. The forest we were walking through was quite huge and we were able to explore a great many things. Some of these things you would see in the winter more so than any other season. As an example there were a great many animal tracks from the local wildlife. Deer, rabbit, squirrel, mouse, stork, human, dog, fox, coyote and wolf were all tracks we spotted this day.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

One of our first discoveries was a few tree spots that the large Pileated woodpeckers had worked on, perhaps even earlier that day. I say that because you could see fresh wood chips all over the ground around the tree. Had it been from a day or two ago they most certainly would have been covered over by the fresh snow fall. It was amazing looking up at these battered long ago deceased trees. When a tree dies many types of insects live in it. Ants can hollow out a tree in no time at all. It’s these tasty little critters that the woodpecker enjoys going after. With their steel like hardened beaks they jackhammer away at the tree, chipping off large junks of bark and tree matter. Now exposing the hiding places of these insects they take their long tongues and simply scoop them up for a tasty meal. You can view a short video of the trees we found here: woodpecker trees video

We didn’t see the Pileated Woodpecker that day but we could certainly see the aftermath of its breakfast. Later on in our 3 hour plus walk we would hear one not far away from us, as it let out its unmistakable call; sounding like an extended comical laugh. It dawned on me then that I had just figured out where TV had got that laugh for the Woody the Woodpecker character in the cartoons I had watched growing up as a kid. It’s really not that far off from the real thing!

At times we crossed small creeks and it was a bit unnerving. Even though the temperature was quite cold over the last few nights, these creek beds wouldn’t always freeze solid. The first time we crossed one I could hear the ice cracking all over from our weight, however we did make it across without any incident. I wasn’t so lucky on the paths that the four-wheel ATV vehicles would drive on. We were following one, walking down it for a stretch when my left foot broke through some ice that froze over the deep entrenchments created by the vehicles’ large spinning tires. When the tires dig large trenches like this because they spin in the mud, they then fill up with water and in the winter freeze over on top. My boot breaking through and being partially submerged under water, my boot got soaked but I was able to keep my foot mostly dry. After that I made sure to walk in the middle where there were no trenches or off to the side of any ATV tracks we followed.

We came across many abandoned bird nests. Many of the birds had not yet returned from flying south for the winter months. It wouldn’t be long before they started to return however. At one point on our walk I caught site of a beautiful Cardinal flying from one tree top to another. My brother-in-law and I both stopped for a few minutes and with the stillness, we were able to hear many birds chirping away singing their songs…a sure sign that spring was just around the corner.

Many people do not realize the health benefits a walk in the forest can have.
Dr. Eava Karjalainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, Metla, has said, “Many people feel relaxed and good when they are out in nature. But not many of us know that there is also scientific evidence about the healing effects of nature.

And according to Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Japan’s leading scholar on forest medicine, “a walk in the forest provides preventive medical effects by relieving stress and recovering the immune system diminished by stress. And for the first time, Japanese scientists have found ways to quantify the impact that forest therapy can have on humans.”
One of Miyazaki’s studies involving human participation and forests had 288 volunteers in 24 different sites, the group of volunteers simply LOOKING at natural surroundings while sitting down showed the following endpoint decreases compared to the urban control group: a 13% decrease in cortisol level, an 18% decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 2% decrease in blood pressure, and a 6% decrease in heart rate. Parasympathetic nerve activity was enhanced by 56%, indicating a relaxed biological system. Can you imagine how those “end point numbers” could even be better if instead of sitting, people actually took a walk through the forest each day?

Results compiled from several of his related studies show a wide range of positive benefits from a walk in the woods. These benefits include:
1. decreased blood glucose levels in diabetic patients
2. decreased stress hormones
3. decreased heart rate
4. decreased blood pressure
5. general relaxation of the human body (increased parasympathetic nervous system activity)
6. possible boost to the immune system (reduced cortisol is associated with increased immune function)
7. decreased depression
8. decreased anger
9. decreased fatigue and confusion
10. increased psychological vigor

When I was a kid I loved being in the forest. Somehow it just always felt right to be there. Back then I doubt there was any information available like I’ve just shared with you regarding Dr. Eava Karjalainen or Yoshifumi Miyazaki. I just intuitively knew that spending time in the forest was magical, in so many ways.

Aggie the bull dog was having great fun when we were out for our walk that day. She sniffed everything she could, especially trees that had holes in them. She could sense they barred small little rodents, after all a dog’s sense of smell is much more advanced. I’ve been told that the structure of a dog’s nose gives it a sense of smell that is thousands of times better than a human being’s. And that a dog’s nose has two hundred million nasal olfactory receptors. Each receptor detects and identifies the minute odor molecules that are emitted from different objects.

Apparently of all a dog’s senses, its sense of smell is the most highly developed. They have 25 times more olfactory (smell) receptors than we humans do. These receptors occur in special sniffing cells deep in a dog’s snout and are what allow a dog to “out-smell” humans. On another note, there are many situations I can think of where I’m glad I don’t have a dog’s keen sense of smell!

Aggie could smell those critters held up at the base of certain trees as if they were standing right outside. You could tell because she would get so excited and run around the tree and then would try to dig them right out of their holes! You can see a short video of Aggie doing that here: Aggie at the tree holes video

We continued our walk deeper into the forest. Aggie was left behind on a few occasions as she was still glued to the trees where she smelled critters. We would wait and call to her from a distance while enjoying the trees and fresh air all around us. Soon after we picked up on some coyote or fox tracks in the snow and ended up following them until we reached a den. We couldn’t see anything down in the den but it sure went down far enough. Of course Aggie was curious too and tried to get as far down as possible to see for herself what might be in there. You can see a short video of Aggie looking in the den here: Aggie in the den video

Later as we headed back we came up to the creek to cross again only it was in a different place. You could see that the ice was not thick here at all so we needed to find another way to cross. Luckily there was a large tree that had fallen right across the creek not too far away and so we walked across that and made it safely across. When we were almost out of the forest and back home my brother-in-law caught sight of 6 or 8 deer that were high tailing it across the forest, surely in response to catching sight or smell of us being nearby. With so many trees in the forest it only took a few seconds running and the deer disappeared into the thick healthy forest.

In our modern day and age doctors are embracing the benefits of trees, too. In England many GP’s, instead of prescribing antidepressants, are referring patients suffering from stress, depression or anxiety to Green Gyms where they can get involved in conservation projects. Research by Oxford Brookes University shows that cardiovascular health benefits from exercise and fresh air, in addition woodland surroundings have a calming effect that assists recovery more than a gym

So then next time you want to exercise for health benefits or if you are feeling any kind of negative emotions why don’t you give the forest a try. Trees can even help you think better. Don’t believe me? Well Plato and Aristotle did their best thinking in the olive groves around Athens, Buddha found enlightenment beneath a bodhi tree, and Isaac Newton realised his theory of gravity when an apple fell from the tree under which he was sitting. So at your next opportunity get out into the woods; just being among trees is good for your wellbeing. Your breathing will become deeper, your senses will be satisfied and you will feel peaceful and grounded. The Japanese have a word for this feeling — shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. As a personal life coach, martial arts and meditation teacher having helped thousands of people with a variety of physical, mental and emotional challenges, some of the best advice I could extend to you would be to take a walk in a forest on a regular basis. Oh and any season will do. While the forest might seem to be a different place during the different seasons the health benefits are always the same. So what are you waiting for, get out and hug a tree. And if tree hugging is not your thing then just get out there and walk among the trees and simply admire them.

Happy forest bathing!

Quote for the week:

 “We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.”

– Albert Einstein

Terry Walking at Lake-Forrest in the Autumn www.InnerOuterYou.com

Terry Walking at Lake-Forrest in the Autumn
www.InnerOuterYou.com

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About Terry Hodgkinson

Terry J. Hodgkinson is a MindFit consultant. He owns Positive Changes Hypnotherapy and Meditation Centre in Toronto, Canada. As a corporate trainer, keynote speaker and retreat leader he enjoys his work so much that he calls it his passion. In 2009 Terry's book, Memoirs of a Wandering Ninja - Walking the Path of Enlightenment was published. *For information on Terry's international retreats visit: www.TaoJourneys.com *Book Terry for your next event visit: www.TerryHodgkinson.ca *Martial arts training visit: www.ChungFuMartialArts.com
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