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The Healing Power of Nature
As an introverted child fascinated by all creatures great and small, exploring the woods behind my childhood home was my respite. Worries, self-doubts, and pressures from the “everyday world” melted away as I foraged for plants, identified animal tracks, and listened to bird calls. Fast-forward decades later and nature is still my solace that inspires the setting in which I help others heal. A growing body of research reveals what many intuitively know about the healing powers of nature. Here are a few examples:
- Forest Bathing, termed in Japan in 1982, involves restoring health through the five senses. Asian countries have since taken the lead in incorporating forestry into medicine. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine1 concluded that forest environment exposure plays a “significant role in promoting human physiology and mental health.” For those interested in trying forest immersion, you can find tips in this Time article or contact me to inquire about therapy nature walks. For longer forest retreats, check out Finger Lakes Forest Immersion.
- Grounding, or earthing, refers to reaping the benefits of earth’s bountiful free electrons by walking barefoot, sitting, or lying on earth’s natural surfaces. Never before in human history have we been so disconnected from earth’s natural energy via lifestyle and synthetic barriers to our natural world. A review of the grounding research in Journal of Environmental and Public Health2 found improved sleep, reduced pain, and healing effects on the nervous system. In another analysis of 12 peer-reviewed reports in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine3 the authors refer to grounding as “electric nutrition” due to cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. To learn more, watch this quick video, and be sure to let me know if you want to incorporate earthing into a therapy session.
- Green Views in the form of gazing out a window or time spent in greenspace were both associated with reduced depression and loneliness according to a recent study published in Ecological Applications.4 The authors state that “nature around the home may play a key role in mitigating against adverse mental health outcomes due to the pandemic and the measures taken to address it.” It seems that adding a plant or two to your home décor may do more than spruce up your living space!
- Water is not merely a source of hydration or a relaxing bath. If you’ve read Dr. Wallace Nichols’ book Blue Mind, you’re familiar with the connection between bodies of water and well-being. “Strong protective associations between living in close proximity to open water and several common causes of death” were also found in a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.5 Remember this the next time you curse Lake Ontario for lake-effect snow. Be grateful to reside near water, including a river and canal, along which therapy walks are feasible.
- Sunlight boosts serotonin production and enables the skin’s synthesis of vitamin D3, which is converted to the active form of vitamin D, 1,25(OH)2D, vital for calcium absorption and immune function.6,7 Please note that overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays responsible for these effects can cause melanoma, so be sure to talk with your dermatologist about proper protection and your individual risk. Red and near-infrared light are also emitted in natural sunlight and show “promising evidence” in improving various disorders according to recent review in Ageing Research Reviews.8 Fortunately for sunlight-deprived northerners or those avoiding UV exposure, you can step into the warmth and serenity of an infrared sauna. Chromotherapy (using visible light frequencies) is one of this sauna’s many health benefits, which is explained in a 2019 overview in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.9 Clients can arrange a rejuvenating infrared sauna session before or after therapy in my Pittsford office at Nurturing Hands Message & Saunafied.
How will you get your dose of nature today?
- 1. Wen, Y., Yan, Q., Pan, Y., Gu, X., & Liu, Y. (2019). Medical empirical research on forest bathing (shinrin-yoku): A systematic review. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 24(1), 70-70. doi:10.1186/s12199-019-0822-8
- 2. Chevalier, G., Sinatra, S. T., Oschman, J. L., Sokal, K., & Sokal, P. (2012). Earthing: Health implications of reconnecting the human body to the earth’s surface electrons. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012, 291541-8. doi:10.1155/2012/291541
- 3. Sinatra, S. T., Oschman, J. L., Chevalier, G., & Sinatra, D. (2017). Electric nutrition: The surprising health and healing benefits of biological grounding (earthing). Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 23(5), 8-16.
- 4. Soga, M., Evans, M. J., Tsuchiya, K., & Fukano, Y. (2020). A room with a green view: The importance of nearby nature for mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ecological Applications, , e2248-e2248. doi:10.1002/eap.2248
- 5. Crouse, D. L., Balram, A., Hystad, P., Pinault, L., van den Bosch, M., Chen, H., . . . Villeneuve, P. J. (2018). Associations between living near water and risk of mortality among urban Canadians. Environmental Health Perspectives, 126(7), 077008-077008. doi:10.1289/EHP3397
- 6. Mead, M. N. (2008). Benefits of sunlight: A bright spot for human health. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(4), A160-A167. doi:10.1289/ehp.116-a160
- 7. Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. (2012). Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, 3(2), 118-126. doi:10.4103/0976-500X.95506
- 8. Heiskanen, V., Pfiffner, M., & Partonen, T. (2020). Sunlight and health: Shifting the focus from vitamin D3 to photobiomodulation by red and near-infrared light. Ageing Research Reviews, 61, 101089-101089. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2020.101089
- 9. Azeemi, S. T. Y., Rafiq, H. M., Ismail, I., Kazmi, S. R., & Azeemi, A. (2019). The mechanistic basis of chromotherapy: Current knowledge and future perspectives. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 46, 217-222. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.08.025