“I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put together.” John Burroughs
I have always dreamed that one day I would live by a tranquil lake in a quaint old cabin tucked away in the heart of a forgotten forest. I will then completely let go of time and live amongst the rustling trees and wildlife and reconnect and attune entirely with the Earth’s vibration.
Although I am still waiting for that cabin-life to manifest, I make the most of nature’s therapeutic offerings by choosing an alternative option—I regularly hike or go camping.
Whenever I feel even the slightest sensation of burnout flushing over me I know it is a sign to shut down all electronics, pack a few essential items, and head out into the middle of nowhere.
I find that as soon as I break away and set out on a short trip, my life calms and simplifies and I am able to reevaluate my current circumstances and any pressures or stresses I have subconsciously been holding on to are immediately carried away with the wind.
Through spending much of my time outdoors I have learned, through trial and error, about aligning with the wilderness and mostly, I have discovered that before I could fully appreciate it, I had to fully respect it.
Mother Nature is a powerful force and our greatest teacher and the only expectation I have of her now is that I am always prepared to expect the unexpected.
One of the major things I have discovered about being outdoors is that it evokes the natural survival skills that are hardwired into us as human beings, however unfortunately many of our abilities get forgotten on a daily basis due to the modern way we now live.
A therapy, known in Japan as Shinkin-yoku, or Forest Bathing, focuses on how we receive a dose of healing medicine simply by spending a short amount of time in a forest environment.
Research has shown that there are many health benefits to be gained by soaking up the atmosphere in a forest and the most significant ones are that our cortisol levels and blood pressure both decrease, so after a short walk we are far less likely to feel anxious, stressed or overwhelmed.
Other scientifically proven benefits of spending time in the forest include higher energy levels, a boost to our immune system, improved mood, enhanced concentration, greater creativity, clearer intuition, heightened clarity, more vitality, closer friendships and an overall increase in happiness.
Spending time outdoors also means we gain health benefits from the sun as it enables us to produce a necessary and natural supply of vitamin D.
We also inhale far more oxygen when we are in a fresh, leafy, tree filled environment and according to scientists at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, during the summer months there is far more oxygen in the air so our lungs will thank us for a vital and nourishing boost.
Research has shown that a hike in the forest not only burns up to 500 calories, but it also opens our mindso our imagination and creativity flows. Whenever I go through a period of mental blindness the first thing I do is put on my walking boots and head out to immerse in the woods.
Within moments of arriving I feel my mind clearing out excess, unnecessary worries and negativity and it is instantly stimulated and refueled with positive, inspirational and invigorated thoughts and feelings.
One other thing I have noticed is that when I am in the serenity of the woods my senses are heightened and I am more aware and find it far easier to be present and mindful. I have no obligations or distractions, technology is banished, I am not disturbed by anyone around me and because there is minimal noise surrounding me, I manage to stay present easily so my meditation practice is far deeper, more peaceful and I am able to maintain it for far longer knowing that there are no demands on my time or presence.
My favorite part of camping is cooking on a campfire as not only does the warm yellow hue of the fire extend the day a little, it also allows cooks the most delicious food while creating the perfect ambience for intriguing conversation where personal stories along with historic tales are swapped and if someone brings along a guitar it is the perfect heat, light and mesmerizing backdrop for a collective sing a long.
Camping takes us back to our inherent, instinctive natural state so all of our senses are at a heightened level. Everything just feels better when we are camping, which is partly the reason that many people find their romantic relationship is recharged and they communicate more, feel a stronger bond and generally feel far closer than before.
One study showed that camping is an aphrodisiac and that couples who camp together experience an increase in their sex drive—not just during the trip but long after too.
We can increase the health benefits of the outdoors by spending a few nights camping out. Research has shown that sleeping disorders that are caused by too much exposure to artificial light can simply, quickly and easily be relieved. When we are exposed to artificial light late at night it reduces our melatonin production, and as melatonin helps us to drift naturally into a deep sleep, it can mean that people struggle to fall asleep easily.
Scientists at the University of Colorado in Boulder found that camping resets our body’s internal natural clock, known as our circadian rhythm, and this happens when we sleep and wake in tune with the natural light from the sun’s glow and the darkness as the day comes to an end. We are then able to achieve a restful and much deeper sleep and we are more likely to wake up refreshed even if we have slept for a shorter period than we normally do.
For me, the best part about sleeping out in the wilderness is the limitless conversations that can take place as we lie out looking up at all the sparkles of light in the spectacular sky while figuring out all the mysteries of the universe.
Fortunately, when we are in a forest there is usually very little light pollution, which means that the sky will be lit up with an uncountable amount of glittering stars and we are able to see almost everything that human eyes are capable of witnessing in the still of the night. There really is no better time for a spot of stargazing, and even better if binoculars or a telescope has been packed.
I find the forest replenishes and rejuvenates me and whether I spend one hour or one week in it, it seems as though the whole world pauses the moment I enter it and I reconnect and return to the one and only place on this Earth that truly does feel like my soul’s original home.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” Edward Abbey
Written by Alex Myles
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Originally published on https://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/04/the-benefits-bliss-of-sleeping-beneath-the-stars-forest-bathing/