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Looking into the past for natural cures

December 29, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

After spending the majority of my life in a region that was once considered the world's foremost cure center, I've often wondered what constituted the basis of "the cure."

In 1854 on the advice of his physician, Hermann Brehmer moved to what he believed to be a healthier climate in the Himalayas, and he returned a cured man.

The experience moved him to construct the world's first sanatorium in Gorbersdorf, Germany, which was similarly located in the mountains where the patients enjoyed plenty of fresh air, regular exercise and a nutritious diet.

The Gorbersdorf facility was used as a model for similar cure centers and sanatoriums, where patients were regularly exposed to clear, fresh, cool mountain air.

By the late 1880s, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau had established a similar facility in the Adirondacks, where the environmental factors were comparable.

At the time, the medical community believed the fresh balsam-scented mountain air offered antiseptic qualities that helped "flush disease" from the lungs of the afflicted.

Among the most common elements linking treatments at facilities around the world was regular, year-round exposure to clean, fresh mountain air, combined with regular exercise, proper rest, good nutrition and the use of balsam pillows.

My mother, who took the cure for years, refused to have a balsam Christmas trees in our house, as a result of being exposed to balsam during her many years at "The San." She claimed there was always a balsam pillow under her head as a patient, and she couldn't tolerate the scent.

It was standard practice in nearly every cure facility, including both public and private sanatoriums, cure cottages, private homes, tent platforms and even the "rough camps," which were often surrounded by forests. Patients spent a majority of their time exposed to the open air, and many believed the process was responsible for flushing disease from their lungs.

With an understanding of processes involved in the tuberculosis cure industry, I was interested to discover a recent article in the December 2012 issue of Outside magazine entitled "Free Medicine, Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me In the Morning."

The story focused on the popular Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which translates as "forest bathing."

The author experienced the process while visiting Japan's Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, which is one of the country's official forest therapy trails that have been designated for shinrin-yoku by Japan's forestry agency.

The process of Shinrin-yoku does not require participants to actually bathe in the forest, in a physical sense. Rather they are bathed by a forest encompassing the largest concentration of broad-leafed evergreens in Japan, located in the mountains of Chichibu-Tama-Kai region.

Japanese scientists are among the world's foremost researchers in uncovering the capabilities of natural environments to heal both the body and mind, and researchers have discovered the time spent in natural surroundings can improve cognitive skills, reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety and reduce depression.

Scientists are now able to measure the positive effects of natural treatments on a cellular level, and their progress may provide a renewed interest in Martha Reuben's best seller, "The Healing Woods."

Since 2004, the Japanese government has invested nearly $4 million to quantify research surrounding the positive effects of forest-bathing. Within the decade, officials expect to designate nearly 100 official Shinrin-yoku (forest therapy) locations throughout the country.

Forest therapy is not a modern scientific discovery, in fact it should more likely be considered a rediscovery. The concept that humans are healthier, happier, more relaxed and stress-free when immersed in natural surroundings is as old as dirt.

After all, Homo sapiens evolved outside, and on the scale of evolutionary time, modern man has spent nearly 99.9 percent of the time in the wild.

In fact, our natural environment is outside, which is where we are most comfortable. Unfortunately, over the course of many years, we have either forgotten or misplaced our instinctual capabilities to fully function in the natural environment.

With the stress that results from living in a modern, civilized society, maybe we have finally discovered that in order to move forward, it is most important to look back and retrieve important pieces of our past.



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