Archive for tag: nature

An Illinois Forest Bath

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 needs?

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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 reduce stress.

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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 lunch. 

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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.

Resources:

Leaves, Berries, Flowers and Bark

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.

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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!)

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Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager years ago)

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 Medicine.

  1. Be clean; both yourself and the place you live in.
  2. Be strong. Understand and respect your body.
  3. Protect all harmless wild life. Conserve the woods and flowers.
  4. Hold your word of honor sacred.
  5. Play fair for fair play is truth and foul play is treachery.
  6. Be reverent. Worship the Great Spirit and respect all worship of it by others. For none have all the truth and all who worship reverently have claims on our respect.
  7. Be brave. Courage is the noblest of all gifts.
  8. Be silent while your elders are speaking and otherwise show them deference.
  9. Obey. Obedience is the first duty of the Woodcrafter.
  10. Be Kind. Do at least one act of unbargained service each day.
  11. Be helpful. Do your share of the work.
  12. Be joyful. Seek the joy of being alive, for every reasonable gladness that you can give or get is a treasure that cannot be destroyed.