In Asia, contemplative walks through the woods are called Forest Bathing. These walks reconnect the individual with nature, which leads to decreased stress, natural mood elevation, and can even help strengthen the immune system. Think of forest bathing as a kind of "mobile meditation." Japan so firmly believes in the power of forest bathing that, since 2007, have had the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine.
So why nature and why is it so important for humans to spend time there? Evolutionary biologist, E. O. Wilson believes that there are evolutionary reasons why humans seek out nature; a preference for being in beautiful, natural spaces because they are "resource-rich environments - food, shelter, and even comfort." There are over 100 studies that show being in nature, living in nature, and even viewing images of nature (paintings, photographs, illustrations, videos, etc.) can have a positive impact on the human brain, body, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. Viewing natures seems to be inherently rewarding and produces a flow of positive emotions and really helps to calm the nervous system. These, in turn, help humans to cultivate more openness, creativity, connection with others, generosity, and resilience! Nature, it turns out, isn't just good for survival, but it's also beneficial for your social and personal well-being.
Several scientific studies have shown how viewing awe-inspiring scenes of nature impacts emotions and behaviors. As an example, a group of test subjects were told to view either a few minutes of the video "Planet Earth" or a few minutes of funny footage from "Walk on the Wild Side." The humans who watched the Planet Earth video felt 46% more awe and 31% more gratitude than those who watched the funny clip. Viewing nature, it seems, produces feelings of awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverence....all positive emotions that are known to lead to better physical health and a greater sense of well-being.
And did you know that positive emotions have an impact on social processes, too? Those include trust, cooperation, and closeness with others. This means that being in nature, or simply viewing nature, is likely to have a positive effect on social well-being, as well. The positive benefits of living near a green space have been been well-documented. One study, done in a poor neighborhood of Chicago, showed that those who lived near green spaces - parks, lawns, trees - showed reductions of ADHD symptoms, had greater calm, a deeper connection to their neighborhood, more civility, and less violence. A later analysis showed that areas with more green spaces had less crime.
Interestingly enough, one group of humans who spent a few minutes looking up into a tall stand of eucalyptus trees said they felt less entitled and self-important. Along this same line, a few studies have shown that viewing scenes of nature leads to greater "prosocial" tendencies: generosity, cooperation, and kindness. It seems, then, that we can conclude from all these studies that nature, even viewing it in small doses, leads humans to be kinder and more altruistic.
Spending time in nature isn't just pleasant and a nice way to pass he time, it is good for us, as well. And we now know that nature make humans nicer, kinder, and more generous. Might I suggest that you find some lovely woods and plan on taking a forest bath...no soap required.
Tomorrow, I'll continue this topic and look at how natures helps our health and why we, humans and frogs alike, need more nature. I Hope you'll come back for round 2 of this wonderful subject!