I love the woods!
Did you know that in Japan, there is a term which literally means to bathe mind and body in green space? In Japanese, shinrin means forest, and yoku refers to a “bathing”, showering, taking in- with all of our senses, the forest atmosphere!
I am lucky to live not far away from Walden Pond, I walk or swim there almost everyday. I take myself offline during the day and give myself a chance reset. I go forest breathing for the intention of re-invention- to re-invent the experience of the forest with all of my being. And to re-invent myself, too. Because I realize by slowing down, I’m not doing less, I’m doing more.
I am breathing in the air of the transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Louis May Alcott and more. These places are immersed in the tradition of conscious living and communing with the land. I am reminded that when I breathe, all I need to do is become aware of the preciousness of life and tap into the molecules of genius in the air around me. This is my way to greet the day!
Our aptitude for stillness is all but lost, however, when we deliberately take ourselves to bathe in nature…”it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon (our) hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that wonderfully changes and renews (our) weary spirit”- Robert Louis Stevenson —so true, right?
We are energy beings. We send out energy according to our feelings, thoughts and moods inside of us. And we take in energy from the environment that surrounds us.
For many, our jobs are killing us. So the days of being unconscious with our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are over. It’s time to re-invent ourselves and eliminate destructive, self-critical patterns.
In 1990, Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University conducted a small study in the beautiful forests of Yakushima to test shinrin-yoku. Home of Japan’s most pristine forests, Yakushima contains 1,000 year old cedar trees. Miyazaki showed that 40 minutes of walking in the cedar forest improved mood and feelings of vigor. Further, his findings reported lower levels of stress hormone cortisol in subjects who took a forest walk compared to the control group of subjects who took indoor walks. Miyazaki’s study was the first evidence-based proof that the walk in the forest is not the same as other environmental settings.
It is important to note that a reduction in stress hormones is almost certainly a boost for the immune system. Natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncide, have also been associated with the cure for tuberculosis. Since the 1800’s, research physicians in Japan, Bavaria, Germany and the Adirondacks of New York State have studied the beneficial effects of breathing forest air.
There’s something else I want to share with you, it is especially in Springtime that pine trees secrete a healing balm into the air that is magnified! A testament to shinrin-yoku and the preventive benefit of the ancient forest. Therefore, aside from the mental aspects, the physiological benefits of ancient forests stand tall as reason enough to preserve what is left of these beauty-filled, quiet places.
Perhaps, it is my 25 years of experience working with chronic and terminally ill children that has kept me in the service of health promotion and disease prevention for children. I remember the excitement for a bone marrow transplant child patient confined, alone, to a laminar air flow room, coming “alive again” when I’d bring my hikes in the mountains using music and color photos projected on the walls of that tiny room. Much of my training in mind/body techniques evolved from my work at Boston Children’s Hospital and led me to be taken on as research assistant to co-founders of the Mind/Body Clinic, and NY Times Bestselling authors, Harvard cardiologist, Dr. Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response and Dr. Joan Borysenko, Minding the Body, Mending the Mind.
My doctoral studies in cross-cultural healing taught me that indigenous healing practices place much importance on investigating the underlying thought patterns and emotional disturbances that are the cause beneath the surface symptoms of our illnesses. The many patients who came to the Mind/Body Clinic also began to appreciate this perspective using meditation practice. But another way to get there which requires only a novel bit of awareness, is through solitude in nature.
Now, more than ever, our world needs to prosper. We must learn to enjoy our life and model this for our children. Don’t we want to help our children awaken the power of inner energy?
Start with space— no distractions! When we have space outside, we automatically and naturally clear space inside. Both worlds inspire us, stretch us, inform us. From each reveals the interconnectedness of all living things. Now, consciously add the breath and the forest-air.
Good things come from such a peaceful place as the forest. Let’s start right now. We’ll follow our breathing and “take in” the forest air by turning our attention away from the day and bringing our attention inward. The pathway to the quiet mind is the breath. In the breath is a clearing space.
Whether we know it or not, the forest has its influence on us. The trees are asking us to be present. Nature is trying to capture our attention but most of the time we are too oblivious, we miss the subtle invitation. Even so, part of us does connect! We can leave a green space feeling better than before we got there and never know why.
The invitation from the forest is to commune with its energy. For when we let the forest energy become our energy we receive its power, its strength, its healing. This is a one-way communication. But it really becomes “magic” when we communicate back to the trees; then the connection becomes two-way!
Real magic is impossible unless we are aware. Ask the tree huggers why they hug the tree and say “I love you!” When you are hugging that tree you are connected not only to that tree but to all life in the forest.True magic is expansiveness! When you love, your heart opens, your awareness becomes more and more. You have the revelation that this tree feels me and I feel the life force of these ancient trees. The tree “allows you to be there”. The tree does not judge or criticize you.
In my private practice, I go to the forest with children who have anxieties of all sorts and I encourage them to sit against the tree and ask the tree- “how do you stand there for eons?”
“I’m having trouble focusing and being still?” In this manner, we are asking permission for healing. We are having two-way conversation. It’s like a radio, we have to “tune in” to the station. When we slow down, we get information.
Believe it or not, many of the children that I work with have this knowingness. By using the forest setting, I am cultivating expansive awareness. The tree “knows how to just be”— without self-judgement. This is the magic, you allow the blocks in your body/mind/spirit to be cleared.
Let’s meet all life experiences with the attitude of expecting mind-expanding, heart-opening re-inventions.
Side Bar-Insert Mini-Meditation:
Forest-air breathing is inspirational! Why? Because to be inspired means to be breathed or to take in breath. In this process, we take in, inhale that which surrounds us. It is natural and automatic.
The breath has three parts: there is a filling, receiving and the exhalation, a letting go, emptying.
But the third aspect of the breath is subtle and sometimes missed or misunderstood. It is the segment of gently holding the breath. The holding of the breath is the most important part. It is the magic now, the choice point between in and out; conscious and unconscious. It is the strategic middle ground between the inhalation and exhalation, the center point of infinity.
This choice point is our moment of awareness. We have a choice, to stress ourselves with our thinking mind or to tap into our inner resources, relax, renew, refresh. We tap infinite possibilities This is the point of rebirth in each breath. You are in the magic now of birthing anew in each breath.
Become aware of this moment and this one too;
it is the forest-air of new life breathing you.
Holding, ever so gently, the breath is holding, reverently, life.
Take three deep breaths- slowly, easily and say to yourself:
As I breath in, I take in the beauty all around me.
As I breath out, I express the beauty within me.
As I hold my breath, I honor the fullness of all that is.
I am the beauty of new life.
I am the peace of the forest-air.
“I help stressed, anxious children calm down and reduce their anxiety with natural methods so they can improve their focus and concentration, do better in school and just be happier overall.”
Side Bar: Inspired by her study of cross-cultural healing practices, Dr. Daleo believes it is possible to weave the ways of ancient people into the fabric of modern life in an effort to help the young claim this wisdom as an essential part of who they are. The most relevant and timeless aspect of ancient practices is the sincere understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things. It is a knowing that everything that is in us is in the atmosphere we breath- the receptacle from which we draw our life energies that nourish and sustain us.
Dr. Roxie’s website: wwwdrroxannedaleo.com
Stress Reduction/ Relaxation CDs and Books
Mobile App Guided Imagery Relaxation
‘Using Your Energy Wisely” vimeo