Nature provides a time-tested cure

Spring in the Adirondacks is a birthing season for many wild creatures, including snapping turtles which build nests and lay eggs near the shores of rivers, lakes and ponds. (Provided photo — Joe Hackett)

The human sensory system evolved in a completely wild all-natural world, which may explain why our brains are more relaxed when we are in natural spaces. Humans are hard-wired to look at, hear, feel, taste, touch and smell nature. We seek it on the ground, in the open air and under the water.

In recent years, researchers have actually been able to quantify the dynamic interactions of humans in natural settings by measuring the differences in our heart rates, blood pressure, skin temperature and cortisol levels, which are affected in a positive manner when we are immersed in natural surroundings.

The concept should come as no surprise, especially among the many Adirondackers who either worked in the local tuberculosis cure industry or were here taking the cure themselves. The balsam scented healing woods of the region still retain their once powerful restorative properties.

Although the local woods are no longer utilized to cure tuberculosis patients, the very same woods and waters continue to provide a curative environment for a new generation of patients who have come for the opportunity to find powerful solace and safe haven in the surrounding woods and on the quiet waters.

Researchers have made some startling discoveries in recent years that appear to confirm the benefits of the innate natural healing properties that can be found in the Adirondack woods and waters. For instance, when our immune system produces “natural killer” cells attack to fight a cancer, the process actually increases much faster when conducted in a forested environment. Recovery times may also be positively affected.

As a result of this discovery, Japan has already developed more than 50 “certified, forest therapy trails on their public park lands. The forest service is taking the project very seriously, due to the potential public health benefits.”

Forest bathing does not actually require bathing in the typical sense, rather it is a process in which all of the senses are engaged at once. They believe the process is related to how effectively the outdoor environment makes their stress levels go down.

The process takes participants through a series of relaxation techniques where they can hear the sound of creeks gurgling, feel the wind on their cheeks and smell the aromas of the forest. They are bathed not only by the scents of forest, but also by the natural sounds of birds, breeze and the swaying trees.

The human sensory system evolved in a natural world and when we return to these natural spaces, our brains become more relaxed and at rest. They are in a safe, familiar place that was naturally designed for humans.

Forest bathing refers to the concept of being immersed in an environment where all of your senses are amplified. Although humans are no longer considered wild, we each carry the DNA of our once wild brethren. When we return to natural settings and travel on a natural path, it is a safe, familiar and exciting experience. Similar forest therapy programs are popular in Korea, the Ukraine and in many nordic regions.

In Finland, public health officials currently recommend their citizens spend at least five hours a month in the woods, especially during the fall and winter months, when daylight is severely diminished. The process is intended to keep people active in an effort to stave off seasonal depression (aka the winter blues).

The current “epidemic dislocation” of humans from their natural settings in the outdoors has accelerated in recent years as a result of the growing popularity of hand-held electronic entertainment devices that have expanded across the globe. As a result of this mass exodus, children, teens and adults are currently spending less time outside than any generation in human history.

Twenty five years ago, 70 percent of U.S. kids were playing outdoors every day. However, only 26 percent of current-day children play outside daily. After school, kids used to come home, meet up with their friends and run around the neighborhood.

Not anymore.

Today’s kids tend to be totally scheduled. If they do happen to go out, it’s usually with an adult for an organized sporting event. There’s precious little time left for the exploratory free play which many experts believe is necessary to build social skills that children require to gain a sense of themselves as they build problem-solving skills.


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