Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday, December 7, 2023. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Bare your soul in the woods. Don’t make things weird— bare just your soul and sole— and may the forest be with you.
“There’s a practice called ‘grounding,’ and it’s just taking your shoes off so your feet can touch grass and dirt, and when you do, you can have reduced pain and inflammation,” said naturalist Sara Holger, standing at the front of Log Lodge at Good Earth Village (GEV) in mid-November, continuing, “Forest therapy…or Shinzinyoku, is immersion in nature.”
Holger, guest speaker at the November GEV Lunch and Learn event, told about how the advent of forest therapy, or taking time to rest and practice mindfulness outdoors, is becoming a method of helping people whose lives are too hectic or are in upheaval reconnect with their emotions, their own bodies and the planet that they call home. She shared about how actual forest therapy medical prescriptions are now being written for patients who need to find better health, both mental and physical, can try venturing outside and participating in “forest bathing,” or going on organized hikes that aren’t really hikes at all – they’re gentle strolls through a chosen place in the woods or a park, during which observation of one’s surroundings is the focus and point. “Doctors are starting to talk about this, even at the Mayo Clinic…about forest bathing.”
The concept sometimes involves what’s known as “sitspotting,” or choosing a place to spend half an hour just sitting and taking in what’s in the trees overhead or watching the dandelions bloom as hard as they can. Holger quipped that she has hosted some forest therapy sessions at which participants have shown up fully geared for a heavy-lifting hike through the woods, and she has to break the news to them that they’re not walking any farther than 200 yards, if that, because simply being outdoors “lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels…a ten-minute walk through trees and near water helps enhance our vision, helps eye development…and there are phytoncides…when we smell trees, the phytoncides we ingest changes our NK cells, or the white blood cells” for the better, giving humans more efficient defense mechanisms. “Every immune function is better when you connect with nature,” she stated, going on, “Emotionally, there’s attention restoration theory, that the two sides of the brain…one side is tasked with checklisting, and the other side is sensory. The critical side fires down and the sensory side fires up, and after the brain has had just ten minutes outdoors, you can go back to work and fire up the critical thinking side.”
Holger outlined that various groups of individuals benefit from exposure to the elements, relating that “girls who have a view of trees or have access to trees have higher self-esteem…and time in nature strengthens family bonds…cities where there are more trees have lower rates of robbery.” As founder of Project Get Outdoors, a program for low income children, she has long championed taking children into the woods, as she was inspired by the book “Last Child in the Woods,” which elaborates on what happens to children and society in general when people fail to take time to experience nature, learn how it is a place to have fun and how important environmental stewardship is to the survival of the planet’s millions of species. She added that even doctors could use some time under the canopy, as they don’t leave their offices often enough to take care of their own health so that they can continue helping their patients. “Southeast Minnesota Park Rx was started in 2019 and works with Mayo…providing action-track chairs for the trail (for disabled individuals), and we actually take the doctors for walks so they can be healthy because doctors don’t get outside.”
Holger listed the various opportunities that await anyone who has any kind of mobility, including forest bathing, sit-spotting, hiking, just going outside for a few minutes to take a break from work and enjoy the view, keeping a nature journal, gardening, walking, becoming a volunteer naturalist through the Minnesota Master Naturalist program, taking advantage of the quarterly Minnesota state park free admission days and more. She pointed people who have questions about Minnesota’s natural recreational resources to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website at www.dnr.state.mn.us, and concluded by offering, “May the forest be with you.”
GEV will host a special December Lunch and Learn event on Tuesday, Dec. 12 from 11 a.m. to approximately 1:30 p.m. as Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, a well-known Lutheran songwriter, will lead attendees in singing some original Christmas songs and Christmas favorites during the GEV Christmas Sing-Along Extravaganza. For more information, log onto the GEV website at www.goodearthvillage.org or call 507-346-2494.
Courtesy of the Mower County Independent, 135 E Main St. LeRoy, MN 55951, (507)-324-5325