Our days can feel busy and over-scheduled at this time of year. We are shifting from the slower pace of summer to the faster pace of fall. At the end of the day, when your head hits your pillow at night, what is one thing that you did that left you feeling enriched and full?
I sat with this question and reflected on the last year. The first thing that came to my mind was going for a walk in the woods.
When my schedule changed because of the pandemic, one thing I did every day was go for a walk. Sometimes I listened to songs or a podcast. Sometimes I talked to a friend on the phone. Sometimes dear friends in my bubble joined me. Many times, I simply walked by myself.
My daily time in the forest quickly revealed that there is a different language to the world around me if I slow down enough to listen. Often our brains are on autopilot as we move through our daily rhythms. Going to work or school, running errands, or cooking dinner – we aren’t always fully present.
My favorite author, Jedidiah Jenkins, explores this idea in his video The Thousand Year Journey. It’s a reflection on his bike trip from Oregon to Patagonia: https://vimeo.com/120206922.
He says, “When you’re a kid, everything is astonishing. Everything is new. Your brain is awake and turned on. Every passing second, your brain is learning something new, learning how the world works…. As you get older, and your brain has figured out the patterns of the way the world works… and once your brain establishes a routine… the alertness goes away.”
For me, the minute I enter the woods, my alertness comes back. My brain is awake, and I am living life in full brightness. All of my senses are turned on. I notice what I see, what I smell, what I taste. I listen more deeply. With every step I take, I can feel my nervous system settling.
And as I begin to see more deeply and feel my body settle, my breath slows down with it. And what happens to my mind? Of course, it joins the pace of my body. It is no longer full with work, errands, and to-dos. There is space for creativity, ideas come flooding in and my insights and understanding become crystal clear. Some of my best writing has come from a walk in the woods.
I’m not alone in these feelings once my feet hit the earth. There are many health benefits to walking in the woods. Have you ever heard of grounding, earthing, or forest bathing?
- According to The Minds Journal, when our bare feet hit the earth, we absorb negative electrons. These negative electrons balance the positive electrons in our bodies and help our circadian rhythm. This benefits our sleep. It also reduces stress and anxiety, improves our immunity, and boosts our energy levels (https://themindsjournal.com/the-art-of-grounding-walking-barefoot-outside/).
- Wholistically Hannah, a registered holistic nutritionist, shares information about “forest bathing.” This is a medicinal practice originating in Japan that focuses on consciously being in the forest to absorb the energy of the trees. Forest bathing moves us out of fight or flight into a state of calm (https://www.instagram.com/p/CQGqDZyBRmg/).
- Dr. Christian Gonzales, a naturopathic doctor, shared a study that shows being in nature improved creative awareness. Nature allows our brain to enter “default mode” and “restful introspection”, making space for creative thinking (https://www.instagram.com/p/BWvDHX6lZqe/).
If you see me walking barefoot in the forest, you now know there is a method to my madness. It is affordable and accessible and helps my creative mind to wake up. As the days get cooler and shorter, and we enter a slow, reflective season, I encourage you to go for a walk – regardless of the weather. Even if it is just 5 minutes, and especially if it is 45 minutes. Of course, there will be days when it isn’t possible to get out for a walk, so here’s a forest meditation you can turn to instead, to step away from it all even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Mandy Huser Regional Youth Program Coordinator & Settlement Worker Castlegar Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy