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…

 

TrulyHerselfSignature22-300x75

 

 


 

 

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.

 

read more

Weekly Wisdom Wrap: Nature Therapy, Ancient Wisdom, and the ‘New RX’ for Body, Mind, and Spirit

May 22, 2015 by

 

 

Today unofficially begins Memorial Day Weekend here in the States which typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end. For people on the East Coast of the U.S, taking off to the beach is a tradition many people have been embracing for generations. After a long winter of snow, ice and rain, a day at the beach is the ultimate spa day filled with sunshine, salt water and fresh air. There is something special about the combination of all three that heals the body, mind and spirit and we often take these things for granted.

As a young girl, when I spent summers with an Aunt who lived close to the ocean, all I can remember is sleeping like a baby. I just had the best slumber! It’s hard to know if it was the ocean air that lulled me into a sound sleep or just the beautiful day I spent outside riding my bike to beach, swimming in the ocean and soaking up the sun. Nature was a wonderful elixir and sedative for me and there is no other comparative experience that both stimulates the senses and calms the body except sex! Don’t you agree? Think about what I am talking about here! lol

 

 

 

Just today, I read this great short piece from a UK newspaper on the healing powers of the ocean, and you will be thrilled especially if you aren’t headed to the ocean this weekend. Much of what they share in the article are spa treatments but they also recommend contacting a The General Council of Natural Homeopaths, which you can find here in the U.S or your part of the world too. I am providing the U.S directory here for your perusal, because you may want to explore it when seeking a healing modality that looks to nature for cures.

What is really interesting, is learning more about water therapy wisdom, which has been carried on for centuries by many cultures and began with the great ancient Greek healers. It is in Greece that the healing tradition called ‘The Water Cure’ evolved.  The Water Cure is the common term for a collection of therapies which, in one way or another, creatively make use of the healing virtues of Water:

Hydrotherapy:  techniques of therapeutic bathing and use of water

Balneotherapy:  therapeutic bathing in medicinal and thermal springs

Thalassotherapy:  the therapeutic use of ocean bathing and marine products

So you can understand why we all head to the ocean when we can! Yes, nature provides and we need to protect and cherish beautiful mother earth, because she is a part of us. ‘Nature therapy’ is just a modern term used for ancient wisdom. But wait, there are many who love the mountains. No surprise, because all of nature is restorative and healing. Read John Muir’s (the famous naturalist) quote I have highlighted from over a century ago, and pay attention to the ‘century’ part, because it is amazing how culturally relevant his words are today.

“Thousands of tired, nerve shaken, over civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber, and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life’. ~John Muir

As mentioned earlier, ancient cultures have been turning to nature or rather immersing themselves in nature for thousands of years! Chinese Taoist created gardens and greenhouses to improve human health. But today in Japan the belief in the benefits of connecting with the earth is so strong that a national movement  ‘shinrin-yoku‘ was launched, supporting the use of nature to improve health and well-being. The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine has conducted numerous studies showing measurable medical and mental health benefits to connecting with nature. The Japanese government invested more than $4 million in research to prove the tangible benefits of nature, and has also built “forest therapy bases” and has inspired the rest of Asia to follow. This is wellness culture in action!

Kawachi Fuji Garden in Japan

Don’t despair, you know you don’t have to go to Japan to commune with nature. Western science is catching up with ancient wisdom and new research is supporting that nature therapy helps control pain and negative stress. ‘Nature’s RX’  has benefits that may go way beyond just outdoor exercise. Certain scientific findings ( evidence still building) has become so convincing that mainstream health care providers are promoting nature therapy for an array of illnesses and for disease prevention. Don’t forget last weeks ‘weekly wisdom wrap’ where we covered ‘Vitamin D’ and sunshine. Moderation was the key takeaway…

So here is the good news! As I said, you don’t have to go to Japan, you don’t even have to go to the ocean or the mountains to reap the benefits of ‘Nature Therapy’. You can just go for a walk outside. Many docs and experts promote the benefits of reconnecting with Mother Earth simply by walking into our own backyards barefoot, also called ‘earthing‘ or “grounding.” Research has shown that this simple action may offset some of the harmful effects of the electromagnetic fields surrounding us and transfers the negatively charged free electrons in our bodies into the earth.

I personally wanted to share some of my passions in addition to loving the beach. I am a certified Flowerista which essentially means I love flowers! Gardening is a great way to dig in and commune with nature. There is an old book from 1699 called the ‘English Gardner’, and it advises “spend spare time in the garden, either digging, setting out or weeding, there is no better way to preserve your health’. Remember the Chinese had this down thousands of years before this!

Since I’m a Flowerista you would think I have my own personal garden–but surprise I don’t! I have lived in urban city apartments for a big part of my adult life but always found my way ‘out into nature’. My work allowed for International travel and guess what I always did no matter what part of the world I was in? I found a Public Garden! I still do this is my own area and always find gardens greatly uplift my mind and spirit. I also love visiting working farms and farmers markets which keeps me ‘grounded’ and healthy in numerous ways, especially from the inside out. Below is one of my fav local farms in New Jersey…

Here are two links I thought you would find useful and hopefully will inspire you to get outside for some nature therapy. Of course there are National Parks, Eco-Travel vacations and tours but communing with nature doesn’t necessarily have to be saved for a vacation. If you live in a concrete jungle like New York just go over to the new ‘High Line’ and enjoy a wonderful path along the outskirts of the city. Green Spaces are becoming more available because ‘the wisdom’ is becoming understood that nature is good for communities. Go figure! How this escaped us I will leave to the historians of industrialization!

Find a Public Garden

http://www.nationalpublicgardensday.org/search-gardens

Find a Farmers Market

http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/

So here we are again, coming to a familiar conclusion. Mind, body, spirit are all interconnected and health is dependent on caring for all three. It’s truly amazing how Mother Nature provides healing medicine for all three and it is often right outside our front door…

Enjoy the Holiday Weekend!

read more