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October 8, 2015

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Healing Yourself in Nature

 

 

Spring is finally here! Anybody else excited to go outside?

 

After months of being cooped up inside, feeling low in energy, and perhaps with some seasonal illness, it can feel like waking up after a long slumber when the spring sun comes out. So let's take advantage of the lovely weather and head outside for some well needed nature time to restore our depleted winter bodies.

 

With its lack of sunlight, winter can take a toll on our mood, energy levels, health and general wellbeing. Vitamin D is produced by the skin when in direct sunlight and this vitamin is important for serotonin levels, immunity, heart, bones, muscles - you name it. More than 200 diseases have been linked to vitamin D deficiency. So get out there and grab some!

 

While you're outside, consider a trip to the forest. Spending time in nature has shown to do wonders for stress and anxiety, insomnia and numerous other ailments. You may have heard of forest bathing, or forest therapy - the slow mindful forest visit experienced through all of your senses. The minute we get into the forest, we pick up the scents of the trees and plants. This scent is made of chemical compounds called phytoncides that the vegetation sends out to protect itself from harmful insects and germs. And guess what? When we breathe it in, we get the same protection.

 

Now listen to the sounds. The birds chirping, the wind rustling the leaves, maybe a woodpecker in the far distance. Nature sounds have long been known to calm the nerves. A birds chirping will stop when danger is near. The calming effects of a birds chirp are hence an innate response - if we can hear them, all must be well and we can relax.

 

Reach out your hand and touch the trees as you pass them. The trunk or a branch, maybe just one of its leaves. Touching a tree increases oxytocin in the body, the "cuddle hormone". It's also a way of grounding yourself, as is touching the earth itself as with anything growing on it. This practice of grounding, or earthing, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also provides quick calming of the autonomic nervous system, which helps reduce stress and anxiety. In other words - more tree hugging! (And if you don't want to look like a full on hippie, just lean against a tree and pretend to stretch. Grab some deep breaths while you're at it, increasing the grounding effect further. It's ok - you just ran right?)

 

Last, but definitely not least, my favorite: tasting nature! Bring with you a thermos of hot water. Pick a handful of conifer needles along the way (fir, pine, spruce) and take a seat on a rock or a soft mossy log and steep yourself some lovely conifer tea. Let the needles steep for 10 minutes or so, shaking the thermos occasionally. Open the lid and smell the forest in your thermos. Then sip away. If you're like me, you'll be hooked in no time. If you don't particularly like the taste of trees, maybe the fact that the needles have large amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants in them, as well as something called shikimic acid (a key component in Tamiflu) might interest you enough to sample at least some of it.

 

After a couple of hours spent in nature mindfully like this, you should feel calm, energized and refreshed. You have acquired so many powerful benefits to your body.  The wonderful thing is that these effects can last for days and even weeks afterwards. Who doesn't love pleasant, fun and free healing?

 

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