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’s WISDOM WRAP: Desperately Seeking Shut-eye In a 24/7 Sleep Deprived Culture…

Mar 14, 2016 by

 

 

Desperately Seeking Shut-eye In a 24/7 World

 

 

 

 

Okay let’s ‘wrap’ about sleep. Did you know that it was Sleep Awareness Week? The National Sleep Foundation created the awareness campaign and their website shares a cornucopia of information on  everything you need to know about sleep. If you are in tuned in to on-line media, you may have noticed quite a bit of ‘how to’ advice on getting more sleep. treating sleep disorders, and the natural ways you can improve the quality of your sleep. And how do we end this important week of sleep awareness? Why of course by setting our clocks forward by one hour for Daylight Savings Time! How are you feeling today after losing yet another hour of sleep?

So, on top of all the well-intentioned media reports on the importance of getting more sleep, we are also hearing additional reports on how by tinkering with our clocks we may disrupt our natural circadian rhythm. Really? Unfortunately, yes. Think about jet lag, and you will start to get the idea. But you have to laugh with me, because aren’t there a million other things interfering with our sleep already? There are certainly ways to improve the quality of our sleep, but like everything else in wellness it really depends on your body, how you are treating your body, and what is contributing to your sleep deficit. You are unique and truly a bio-individual. Each and every person has their own individual needs when it comes to caring for their body.

I would say a high percentage of people in our society have sleep issues and another larger percentage have genuine sleep disorders related to health conditions.  These are the two big elephants in the room. Cultural values and chronic health conditions. Sleep issues are more common because we have created a ‘culture’ that very much interferes with getting a good night’s sleep. Like everything else, we can’t point to one thing in our culture that is making us sleep deprived. It is a combination of cultural forces and some of them we can resist and some we can’t. Technology has progressively changed how we live our lives and there are good things to point to. But we also have a 24/7 expectation that everything must be done and can get done. The important thing to realize, is that every step of the way, we have choices on how we decide to use the technology. This is where our values come in…

Technology is here to stay but it doesn’t have to steal our zzz’s. We can make certain lifestyle decisions that support wellness and won’t interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. The good news is, we can correct our bad habits. It is not until we hit crisis mode do we suddenly admit–‘oh wow I guess sleep is pretty important to my existence’. We don’t worry because our pharmaceutical industry has a pill for that and down the slippery slope we go again to ‘quick  temporary fixes’ that ultimately don’t address the real problems. Which leads me to the other percentage of people who have real sleep disorders…

So in the context of sleep, just think about our ‘speciality’ driven medical world, and how we ride the ‘doctor carousel seeing various specialists to uncover our sleep issues. Where are the good primary doctors  that honestly say to their patient who has serious medical conditions like diabetes, obesity and autoimmune conditions, “diseases can be systemic and until we get your condition managed, your sleep can suffer”. We are holistically a ‘system’ and sleep is an important component of our system, and we need it ‘desperately’ to function well. Treating the whole person ‘holistically’ is the ticket to better sleep for all people struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Follow this link to the Sleep Foundations website to learn just how many sleep disorders there are, and review the many diseases and conditions they are associated with. It’s stunning really.

On the bright side, Functional Medicine is now becoming more ‘culturally acceptable’ because we now realize that proper nutrition, fitness, and sleep are all required for living as a human-being.  I have interviewed some of the best leaders and experts in this area of  healthcare, so I hope you take the time to glean their wisdom and learn more about their books.  Now I know as a blogger I am supposed to provide a few bullet points to help you get a better night’s sleep. But as you have noticed I am not your typical blogger. I love being a conduit and sharing wisdom. Sometimes wisdom is often just ‘common sense’ we forget to pay attention to!

What I will do here now is better than bullets, especially if you read this far. I will share a book full of wisdom. But before I do, I will share the author’s forward to help you understand how I recognize and identify ‘wisdom’.  The book is from 1994 and re-released in 2000 Mass Market as Sleep RX, 75 Proven Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep by Norman D. Ford. If you search Amazon for him you will discover he wrote numerous books covering a broad array of health and wellness topics. He takes pride in sharing information that has been medically proven and heavily researched which is always a great place to start, don’t you think?

“Once you have identified your particular sleep problem, the book then describes exactly what you need to do to RESTORE blessed sound sleep. You may believe the pharmaceutical industry and sleeping pills are the only way to beat insomnia. But the truth is that sedatives and similar drugs only worsen our sleep. A prescription or OTC medication may induce sleep for a few hours. But like almost all drugs, including caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol they distort and disrupt the natural sleep process. The reason is that sleeping, like eating, breathing or making love is a natural mind-body function that only a healthy mind and body can accomplish. This book is designed so that once you identify your sleep problem, you can select the most appropriate and beneficial Sleep RX’s and use them to create your own holistic program to restore youthful sleep.” ~Norman D. Ford

 

 So if you are desperately seeking shut-eye the most important bullet I can share is this one…

  • TAKE CARE OF YOUR WHOLE BODY, IT’S THE ONLY ONE YOU HAVE TO LIVE IN!

Books like the one I have shared here can guide you wisely, and arm you with the information you need to seek out medical help when all else has failed. In the meantime, start with things you really can manage like daily rituals and habits which have no side-effects except possibly a good disposition! 🙂 

P.S We women have complicated hormones that can also affect our sleep patterns. Getting in tune with your body and observing what ‘triggers’ can throw your hormones out of a whack is important. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is causing disturbance, because as mentioned in my last post our bodies are like a big ‘symphony’ and when something is out of tune, it affects the whole performance. It’s wise to learn more about your hormones at various stages of your life.

 

 

 

 

 

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