Walking in Nature
This week we have arrived at the height of late spring. I love this week, each year, when the peonies, rhododendrons and early hydrangeas are in bloom simultaneously, all competing for our attention with their generous flower-heads. There are carpets of roses climbing as high as they can, on fences, trellises and trees, showing off every one of their blooms. The countryside is awash in swathes of bright color, light pink, coral, magenta, red, purple, and every shade in between. With this fullness of bounty, we have achieved peak flower bloom. Standing out from the green, green lawns, so bright with all the rainfall we have received this spring that at moments it looks like a rainforest, the huge flowers currently dominate the landscape. They present a tableau awash in so much color and richness, it’s like a slow-motion kaleidoscope. Look every which way on your horizon, and there is something unique and ravishing to admire. Walking around in the fullness of spring can feel practically trippy in the jubilation of nature that it represents.
I know I will be spending as much time outside this week as the weather and my schedule permit, physically drinking in every bit of this beauty that I can, hoping, as well, that the memories of its beauty will transform to hope to pull me through the bleak winter months next year. I am also planning on taking time out for several walking meditations.
Strolling through a captivating landscape is a natural stress reliever; it simultaneously grounds a person in their surroundings, while uplifting them with transcendent feelings of joy and wonder. Indeed, nothing takes you out of your own hectic, fractured mindset more quickly than spending time in such stunning environs. This is a natural uplift for the spirit. Moreover, if we are lucky and mindful, such experiences have the potential to do so much more. They can move us beyond ourselves, to states of contemplation and wonder, and help us transcend the present moment.
Indeed, there’s a very good reason that this transformation occurs. The brain frequencies in the mind measurably change. They slow down from the unsettled, hyper Gamma state, where we spend much of our time, and move, instead, into an Alpha state, which is slower and allows feelings of grounding, calmness and peace. And then, if we are lucky, our minds can slow down even further, reaching deeper into a state of awareness and intuition, called a Theta state. This is the point where feelings of oneness with nature begin to emerge. So, too, an intuitive state can arise that allows us to reach that Eureka moment where solutions to complex problems suddenly pop into our heads. It is a state of higher visualization, critical for artists, writers, poets and everyone who cherishes spending time in their imagination.
In Japan, a form of nature therapy arose during the 1980s, now becoming known in the West, called Forest bathing or “Shinrinyoku,” which means “imbibing the forest atmosphere.” This is a kind of natural aromatherapy. And, it’s a simple but effective therapy. Patients take enjoyable strolls through the woods, breathing in the aromatic molecules, called phytoncides, that are emitted from the trees. And this is the mechanism that provides these natural health benefits. There have been several scientific studies that have shown measurable benefits to its practitioners, including lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics and better immune health, caused by raising the level of natural killer white blood cells in the innate immune system, which provide rapid responses to viral infections. High levels of stress hormones are also reduced to healthier levels.
So, when you are out walking through the flowers and trees in your neighborhood in the coming weeks, remember to breathe in deeply as you ramble. It is a simple but miraculous fact that you are markedly improving your health as you do so.