WWB Wise Guru Q&A Series: Newly Released Book ‘The Nature Fix’ Presents Cutting Edge Science on How Nature Affects our Health & Well-Being from a World Wise Perspective…

Mar 15, 2017 by

NatureFix_2 with frame.jpgWWB Wise Guru: Florence Williams is an American journalist and nonfiction author whose work focuses on the environment, health and science. She is a contributing editor at Outside magazine and a freelance writer for National Geographic, the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Slate, Mother Jones, High Country News, O-Oprah, W., Bicycling and numerous other publications.

Her first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology and the 2013 Audie in general nonfiction. The New York Times named it a notable book of 2012.

She was a Scripps Fellow at the Center of Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. She is a fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University. She serves on the board of nonprofit environmental magazine, High Country News.

WWB Featured Book: ‘The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative’ explores the science behind our connection to nature and proposes that for optimal well-being, regular doses of nature are not only recommended but required.

 

Lauroly Opening- I am so honored and pleased Florence Williams could join me for a Q&A. Her book is a favorite of mine, and so glad she wrote it. Perhaps it’s a favorite because it speaks to me on a very personal level. Nature has always been my fix, without a doubt. Having said this, I never classified myself as ‘Nature Girl’. I didn’t camp as a kid and I didn’t hike until my 20’s. But being outside and playing in nature was always a big part of my life experience. I can thank my Dad for that. I have this in common with the author! I only saw him on weekends growing up, and every weekend, weather permitted, we were either horseback riding in the woods, walking in the woods, or rowing a boat on a lake next to the woods. Those early experiences and the need to be outdoors has never left me. I like the term Florence used in the book, “drinking the tonic of nature.”I wrote a piece for this very blog on Nature Therapy in 2015 and briefly discussed ‘Forest Bathing’ in Japan which she covers quite extensively in the book. Later in my life, traveling for business, I would always make a point to find a Public Garden no matter where I was, so I could reconnect with nature and myself. Reading ‘The Nature Fix’ confirmed what I have had always felt intuitively about nature…I’m a part of it and it’s a part of me.

Besides my personal connection to the topic of your book, I found it to be the perfect non-fiction book. It is well researched, highly informative and very entertaining as well. I love how she takes us through the research via her own personal travel. Her travel takes us to Japan, Korea, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Scotland, and we learn a lot about their cultures and wellness philosophies. Florence packed so much into this book, I found myself really challenged about where to start. I remind myself that I do these Q&A’s to recommend books and motivate people to go and read the books. I hope to touch on some of the many important findings in this book…

 

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Lauroly Q- Welcome Florence Williams! So if everyone hasn’t heard yet, nature is good for civilization!  What you set out to do is to find the science to support why nature is so important to our humanity and our everyday well-being. To do that we need to understand our senses and how much of how we function is synced with nature.  It seems to me that when we are out in nature we are fully alive, because many of our senses are engaged in our experience. This explains to me personally why I am generally happier when I am outside. There is an enlightening chapter where you focus on a man in Sweden who experienced a personal tragedy and later came to understand how important nature therapy is to patients with depression. Yet like everything else with humans, the dose of nature varies from human to human.  What do we know so far about nature as therapy? Tell us more…

 

 

 

flopromoBarrOutdoorFlorence Williams: Yes, Lauroly, you are exactly right that it does seem to be the full-sensory experience that awakens our sense of well-being, and that there are many studies that support this idea. But the science is still young, and many of the studies are very small. It’s actually quite difficult for scientists to tease apart exactly which elements of nature are most helpful or which senses are most engaged. I was struck by the studies in Japan, led by Japanese anthropologist Yoshifumi Miyazaki, that measured physiological changes to the nervous system after just 20 minutes of being in the woods. These studies showed a 20-minute stroll on a forest trail can reduce your blood pressure an average 11 percent and lower your cortisol hormones (a measure of stress) by six percent. Perhaps because of the practice of forest bathing in Japan, people there are attuned to using all their senses in the woods – so they’re really paying attention to what they’re smelling and feeling and hearing and seeing. It seems that shortcut to mindfulness really helps us feel calmer and relaxed more quickly when we’re out in nature.
 

Lauroly Q– Glad you started with Japan. We can’t discuss your book without talking about ‘ Shinren Yoku (Forest Bathing)’. What is it about the Japanese culture, that has them embracing Forest Bathing so fervently that it has become part of their national healthcare policy? When you asked Miyazaki why nature is so important to their culture, he had this to say, “In our culture, nature is part of our minds and bodies and philosophy. In our tradition, all things are relative to something else.” Loved his answer. But it is amazing how the Japanese ended up being so far removed from the very thing that defined them isn’t it?

Florence Williams: Japan industrialized very quickly. The cities grew fast and there was intense economic competition for good jobs, good schooling and feeding the corporate culture. People are stressed out there, and they work and study incredibly long hours, effectively removing them from a lot of time in the countryside. But it would be mistake to say that modern life has disconnected them from nature. The Japanese still internalize a close connection to plants, for example, in their practices of bonsai and flower arranging, in their tiny gardens and through their lens of wabi sabi, which celebrates the seasons and simple nature. I think in many ways the Japanese definition of nature is more generous that the western one, which looks at spaces like parks and wilderness areas, rather than integrating elements of the natural world into everyday life and homes. That said, the Japanese do seem to relish getting outside when they can. As a result of Miyazaki’s data, the country has designated 48 “forest therapy” trails where overworked, urban citizens are now urged to go unwind, and it looks like more trails are being created.

Lauroly Q- One of the things I was wondering about while reading about your research in Finland, is related to Vitamin D (sun) and the deprivation they experience in winter. Have any researchers looked at how tree therapy might counteract the negative effects of not having enough sun? This is a good time to tell us about why Cypress Trees seem to have such a positive effect on our senses. As you put it, in the book “we enjoy a neural bath of happy hormones”! Below is a quick video you created to illustrate the beneficial effects of nature…

 

Florence Williams: Trees are certainly magical and wonderful, and hit a lot of our happy buttons, from providing rich visuals, especially fractal patterns (known to promote alpha brainwaves) to creating habitat for birds that in turn relax us with their birdsong. The smell piece is fascinating, as tree aerosols from cypress trees in Japan were found to lower blood pressure and increase Killer T immune cells in humans. That said, even in Finland and even in winter, being outside provides more brightness and full-spectrum light than being inside, and so the light aspect is still important. Full spectrum light is linked to wellbeing, and vitamin D is linked to all sorts of good things, from shaping our retinas to strengthening our bones. The lumens outside is generally 10 times greater than the lumens inside, except of course at night. Even the darkness, though, can help reset our circadian rhythms so we sleep better.

Lauroly Q- As a psychology major I found a lot of the research on education, and brain disorders like ADHD fascinating with respect to nature. Besides the specific special needs of children on the spectrum, your book explores the idea that children in general really need nature and play. I loved the section on Friedrich Frobel and his research. He focused on cultivating curiosity and freedom in childhood. Tell us how ‘kindergarten’ was originally conceptualized, and how nature was at the center of child education…

Florence Williams: Friedrich Froebel, who was born in Germany in 1782, was an educator heavily influenced by Rousseau, who said, “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of Nature.” Rousseau and Froebel both made a case for allowing young children to explore and learn based on their own curiosity. Froebel believed that an education filled with nature and art could instill a lifelong readiness to learn and also develop empathy and a love for living things. He really invented kindergarten, and it was nature-based from the beginning. Unfortunately, many cultures now consider kindergarten the new first-grade, and are taking children inside to sit at desks and learn their academics. We are not devoting enough time to considering what has been lost in this new model.

Lauroly Closing: I hope we don’t lose that model. Cultures change, but we don’t have to lose the wisdom that has already been acquired, especially when it comes to child development. Thank you Florence for joining me at World Wise Beauty, to discuss your important and wonderful book. I am going to make it my personal duty to share this book with everyone! I know they will love it and your research will resonate for them. I believe we are realizing nature is not a luxury but an absolute essential to our personal wellness, our humanity and our culture. See you out there Florence!

Florence Williams Closing: Thanks so much for your interest, Lauroly. It was so much fun reporting and writing this book, and it’s certainly made me spend more time outside. I will hope it will influence others as well.

 

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WWB WATCH: What’s New in Wellness Culture? Basic Instincts, Professional Cuddling and the Survival of our Species…

Jun 23, 2016 by

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What’s new in wellness culture? Professional Cuddling is trending from Japan to the USA! When I read the article in the New York Times this past weekend about the trend of  professional cuddling, I had Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Human Touch’ in my head all week long.  I recently went through a challenging experience taking care of my Mom with terminal cancer and had the help of hospice care visiting. The social worker assigned to my case would show up and hug me. At first I found it uncomfortable, but then found out from other nurses that she is known as a ‘hugger’.  As time passed, I began to appreciate her hugs and  I realize now, her hugs allowed me to feel vulnerable in an important way because I was literally watching my Mom die on a day to day basis. Her hugs probably contributed to my trusting her too, because essentially she was a stranger injected into my personal life under great duress. Touching, and hugging is a basic human instinct and the more we become isolated from each other physically the less the very healthy hormone oxytocin will flow through our bodies.

 

New York Times Photo from article June 16, 2016

New York Times Photo by Adam Gonzalez June 16, 2016/article Pillow Talk With a Professional Cuddler

 

Love certainly is the answer to almost anything, but hugs literally have the immediate effect of wellness, because the powerful hormone oxytocin is released in our bodies. Is it surprising that a new industry has risen in wellness culture called ‘Professional Cuddling”?  Not really! I should note, this trend actually started in Japan a few years ago. When I heard about it, it made sense to me because they have a culture driven by tradition and sometimes rigid tradition. There is a great business book I read years ago called ‘The Culture Code’ by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille. He is is an internationally revered anthropologist, and his book opens your eyes to how different we all are ‘culturally’ as well as how social mores are shaped in our cultures. The book gets into Japan’s challenges,  but don’t you worry, we Americans are pretty challenged too! The trend made it here, so we might look at highly  ‘industrialized’ or ‘digitalized’ societies for clues.

Once you read the NYT article, you will learn there are a few complications of professional cuddling, and it is much different than the professional massage experience. What of course screams through this growing trend, is how our culture is suffering from a lack of physical intimacy. We certainly can point to so many socio-cultural trends that are challenging our basic instincts as human beings. When I studied psychology and child development we looked at how important it was for a newborn baby to have physical contact with the mother. Here is an excellent article from Scientific American explaining the importance of physical contact for babies and the terrible deficits that occur when they don’t have it.

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(Michelangelo, 1475-1564 (Flicker.Jonund/ Commons.wikimedia.org)

 

 

If touch is important to our development it must be pretty important to our well-being in general. Who loves their hair being washed? Who doesn’t love a massage? How about pedicures? As the NYT article points out cuddling is different from sex and safe boundaries do matter. Cuddling is a form of safe bonding which again is central to our human species. This excerpt below is from Psychology today and it sums up how important human touch is to our survival. Yes, survival. Now we have a whole different context to ‘Professionally Cuddling’ don’t we!

 

Science tells us that the need for physical contact is present at birth and is an important part—perhaps the most important part—of our species heritage. British clinician John Bowlby proposed the evolutionary concept of attachment, or the innate need for human beings to form strong affectional bonds with others. According to Bowlby, human infants enter the world predisposed to emotionally “bind” themselves to a mom, dad, or other caregiver (in other words, to form relationships), and this predisposition manifests itself in instinctive behaviors which promote physical proximity (and, consequently, enhance survival). This is why all babies cry, suckle, and cling—these attachment behaviors pull supportive responses from and promote physical closeness with caregivers, which helps babies survive.

We know so much about human development and interesting enough, we can also point to other important research on health and longevity, that points to ‘close tight communities’ filled with affection” as one of the contributing factors of longevity. Dan Buettner author of The Blue Zone Solution covers this extensively in his new book. People who live longer tend to have very connective relationships with their family, friends and neighbors. So I leave you with this simple idea. Our basic instinct is to connect and touching is one of the ways we do this. Start by reaching out and touching somebody’s hand and hopefully you don’t have to pay for cuddling. But if you do–it’s okay. You’re only human. 😉

 

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Culture Shift: Winemaking in Sweden and China?

Aug 9, 2013 by

A little wine growing education and a thought provoking Post from a great writer over at Foodie Underground. Talk about a culture shift! This piece  gives “sobering” cultural context to an important topic we are too busy to think about until it hits home. If you really want an eye-opener I dare you to read this report just released today.

Trulyherself,
Lauroly

New Wine RegionsWill Climate Change Have Us Drinking Swedish Pinot Soon?

FEATURES / AUG. 06, 2013 / BY 

“Is that a vineyard??”

I was in Sweden, okay, the south of Sweden, which makes it the warmer region of the country, but even here, it’s no Mediterranean climate. This is the land of snow, dark winters and hand knitted mittens after all. When it comes to drinks, Aquavit is the Swedish forte.

But here at the edge of a plot of farmland there were several rows of bright green vines. Swedish wine? There has to be more at play here than a heartfelt desire to become a vintner.

Around the world, wine regions are changing, and fast. Early this year a paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which estimated that by 2050, we will have lost anywhere from 19 to 73 percent of the land suitable for wine-growing in the world’s major wine producing areas. But as climate change cuts out the standard players, it also gives birth to new ones, making places like China and Tasmania the upcoming hubs of reds and whites. In fact, even champagne houses are looking at land in Southern England for when the vineyard apocalypse hits.

Just like coffee, grapes are sensitive to changes in weather; even a bad season with the wrong temperatures can have drastic effects on that year’s production. Winemakers can of course put adaption plans and practices into place now to deal with the effects of climate change, plantingdrought-tolerant vines that require less irrigation for example, or following biodynamic practices which are more in tune with natural cycles. But wine is a big business, so it’s no surprise that new regions are being explored, and while getting your wine from Montana might sound edgy, it also comes at a cost: many of the new wine regions are often associated with important habitat for wildlife, wildlife that people are constantly working hard to protect. Yellowstone for example is a prime suspect, with good potential wine yields at the same spot as grizzly bear migration. Would you like a Grand Cru or conservation?

Back to Scandinavia.

According to the Swedish wine grower’s association, Svenska Vinodlare, there are 40 vineyards in Sweden, and if wine growing regions react to the change in climate as is projected, there may be many more to come in the next few decades. But while Sweden may win, others will lose, and even in areas that manage to deal with the change in weather patterns, they won’t be serving the same wines.

“Climate change will produce winners and losers among wine growing regions, and for every region it will result in changes to the alcohol, acid, sugar, tannins, and color in wine,” said climate scientist Antonio Busalacchi of the University of Maryland, meaning that no matter what region you’re in, the wine will inevitably change.

While it may be exciting to see new people and places making an attempt at mastering the craft of wine, it’s also a disconcerting indicator, and all the more reason to choose wines from winemakers that respect the land they work on and the process they use to create their libations. And while you’re at it save your bottles of Bordeaux for the days when French wine is a thing of the past.

 

 

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