It's pouring rain right now. Our basement is probably flooding,
slowly. But all that water coming down makes for crisp, clean air!
*Takes deep breath in...*
A few weeks ago I read the abstract to a scientific paper out of
Australia that aimed to quantify the effect of exposure to nature
on participants' health, and to identify an ideal dosage of nature.
The conclusion was alarmingly reductionist. How many trees should
we plant on the roadsides in order to make people less stressed?
How can we manipulate nature in order to best serve our health
A winding path
A practice called Forest Bathing started in Japan in the 1980s.
It was developed as a treatment to relieve stress. Newer studies
have recognized that a consciously meditative walk in the woods can
boost the immune system by increasing natural killer cells. One set
of guidelines on Forest Bathing suggests you spend 3 days and 2
nights in the woods if you really want to boost your immunity.
Otherwise, you may choose to spend just one day Forest Bathing to
Hanzi and me, out for a walk in the woods
Hanzi and I went for an extremely rejuvenating walk in the woods
the other day. Relationships always take work, and my relationship
takes extra work because I'm in medical school. We brought our
cameras and our rain jackets, but nothing else. There is a trail
that ducks off into the trees that I noticed when I first started
commuting by train. I keep meaning to go find it, and we finally
did. It was a rainy day, and cool. The forest was especially green
and fragrant. We encountered two yearling deer; they were
definitely curious and not afraid of us at all. We hung out in
their presence for a few minutes while they devoured low-growing
plants and watched us curiously through their sparkly black eyes.
Hanzi and I chose to move on first; we left them to their
And when it rained and poured we went for some pseudo-nature
at the climbing gym
I found an article written a few years ago by our newest
clinician Dr. Denis Marier titled, "Ecotherapy: Embodying the
Vis Medicatrix Naturae in Clinical Practice." In it, Dr.
Marier writes about the relevance and importance of incorporating
nature into naturopathic care. I love the idea of taking a "Natural
History" with each patient in an effort to understand the patient's
exposure to and experience with the natural world. Naturopathic
doctors believe in working with the Vis, or that
healing power of nature "which always endeavors to repair, heal,
and to restore." This is evidenced in those walk-in-the-woods
smells of new greenery, the mud and wet grass, and damp rotting
wood. The natural world turns over, heals itself. So too, do
humans, who are just as much a part of nature as new leaves,
mushrooms, and rotting stumps.
Besides going out to seek nature, I am particularly fond of Dr.
Marier's idea of "naturalizing a part of your clinic grounds." Even
a city office can be naturalized with potted plants and fresh air.
One aspect of my vision for my future practice includes an outdoor
space where I can consult with patients. In his piece, Dr. Marier
also suggests assigning a Medicine/Nature Walk, which he describes
as a 3-6 hour fast from food, people, and electronics. He
encourages patients to notice how they are observed by nature,
rather than focusing only on their subjective experience. This
makes me think of the deer on my walk the other day; they were so
curious! I was observed. And I observed, too.
One morning when I was 18, I went out for a run in the
Adirondack woods and after I rounded a corner, I stopped dead on
the narrow trail and looked up to see a buck standing in my way. I
stood stock still for half a minute as we made eye contact. I think
I took one or two steps back, which made him hesitate and glance
over his shoulder, then stamp once. He was brownish grey with dark
brown eyes and a small-ish rack of antlers that made me think he
was fairly young. Another shift in my posture was all it took for
him to turn abruptly and bound off into the woods to my right.
(This was before smart phones, and there was no power plug within 2
miles of me to power it anyways, so I didn't catch a picture, but
the image stays remarkably clear in my mind.)
This experience was one of several encounters with wild things I
had over the summers I spent at Tanager Lodge, a summer camp in the Northern
Adirondack Park in upstate New York (the same place I traveled to
for that wedding mentioned in last week's post.) That wedding trip
has inspired this meditation on what Tanager fostered in me that
made me gravitate towards naturopathy more than any other school of
the healing arts.
Old Map of Tanager Lodge
Tanager is a self-proclaimed wilderness camp that engages
"campers and staff in a small, non-competitive community dedicated
to wilderness appreciation, life skills, and individual growth."
This is its 90th summer in operation.
A day in the life of a camper or staff member (I was both)
starts with waking to the sound of a flute (a real one, played from
atop a cliff...I'm not kidding), followed by a dip in the lake,
then breakfast on open porches, cleaning and prepping camp for the
day by bailing boats, peeling carrots, sweeping docks, cleaning our
tents, etc., and then choosing an activity for the morning.
My favorite activity was making herbal teas. We would hike out a
mile or so into the woods on a rainy day and carefully harvest all
kinds of edible leaves, berries, flowers and bark. Once back in
main camp, we steeped them in varying combinations. After a while,
we tasted all the different teas we'd made and they helped to warm
us after a morning of tromping around in the rain. The steeping of
teas is pretty darn naturopathic; there's even an elective class
here at National called Special Topics in Botanical Medicine in
which we learn to make medicinal herbal teas (and many other things
like salves, tinctures, and elderflower fritters!)
Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager
If you are just beginning to explore naturopathic medicine,
please do not feel that you need to come with a past full of jaunts
in the woods and time spent identifying plants. I have many
exceptional peers here at NUHS who came right out of the heart of
cities like New York and Detroit. Not every naturopathic student
loves to get their hands dirty in the garden or yearns for a hike
in the woods like I do, but I am pretty sure we all have a deep
respect for the natural world.
The Tanager Lodge community I grew up with strives to live by 12
Woodcraft Laws that will likely resonate with naturopathic students
in some way. These laws generally parallel the community, spiritual
and ethical aspects of our
Determinants of Health (listen to Dr. Louise Edwards speak on
the topic). I'll leave you with the list and hope that you have
learned a little more about what draws me to study Naturopathic
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
To read older blog posts, scroll to the bottom and click the "Older Posts" button.