|Here I am in a patch of beautiful forest ferns, surrounded by towering oaks, birches, maples, & pines.|
The writer’s mind can be a wondrous thing – methodical and whiz-bang creative, able to leap from tall idea into exciting research and a day of writing that may leave one exhausted but also high. Oh, and let us not forget the joy of analyzing a manuscript, both one’s own or someone else’s. And then there’s brainstorming about stories, plots, characters – one of my all-time fave things to do.
I will always love brainstorming until my very last breath.
|A mysterious granite pedestal|
But as you may recall, I had a head injury on the Fourth of July that resulted in a concussion. My worst moment after that was when I couldn’t remember even how to print the letters of the alphabet.
Now that six weeks have passed, I’m much better but my brain still tires quickly. You never knew that could happen, right? The doctor warned me to get rid of stress (good luck with that) and not to think – yes, don’t think.
Alas, she’s right – if I push my little gray cells too long, I get a roaring headache.
But at the same time, I’m back to writing and seeing friends. I’m just one of 3 million Americans who suffer concussions every year – and I’m healing a lot faster than expected. I’m writing this blog. I’ve done the shopping. I’m working on my new book. And I sleep well almost every night.
To what do I attribute my fast improvement? In a phrase, “forest bathing,” or shinrin yoku in Japanese, which basically means going into the woods or another green space and appreciating one’s time there.
It’s making a huge difference in my recovery. I’ll explain shortly.
|Porcupine high in beech tree|
Yes, I write fiction, but the healing benefits of forest bathing have good science behind it.
Controlled studies of people who spent regular amounts of time in forests showed lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol, as well as reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, risk of type II diabetes, risk of coronary heart disease, and incidence of death from heart disease and all-cause mortality.
Want to fight about it? Another study found significantly decreased levels of hostility and depression, too.
I’m truly lucky. We live in a large forest of wildlife, plants, bushes, and trees. The photos on this page are some of my favorites from it. My research shows that the phytochemicals trees emit and that we breathe are known to be healing, but I don’t ponder any of the benefits when I’m inside the magical kingdom of the woods.
|Wild blackberries – delicious!|
The rich aromas of earth, cedars, and blooming wild flowers transport me. Tall ferns swish against my legs as I walk. As sunlight slants down through the canopy of leaves, I pause to see what new is being illuminated. My jaw unlocks. My breathing responds not to stress, but to normal physical exertion. I smile and smile.
Want to live longer and happier? Bathing in the forest could improve your health, too.
And the good news is that if one spends one’s working day inside an office without even a window, one can also benefit from pseudo forest bathing. Put a photo on your desk or a calendar on your wall that shows an outdoor scene – mountains, a lake, the ocean, flowers, and especially trees, trees, trees. Gaze at it whenever you change tasks. Drink in the beauty.
Every chance you get, go for a walk on a sidewalk where trees are growing alongside it. Better yet, stop at a park, sit on a bench, close your eyes, and breathe. Then open your eyes and feast on the glorious sight of Mother Nature around you.
Of course, forest bathing isn’t all I’m doing to heal. Being in a good marriage and having good friends matter. Eating well, sleeping, napping, moderate exercise, an old cat who loves to cuddle, and the occasional aspirin also make a difference. And whenever I can, I go into the forest.