I found myself chasing butterflies at the Cole Road Prairie one afternoon.  While my goal was to capture images for a new website, the result was actually much more.  I truly felt transformed by my experience in nature.

When first arriving at the prairie, my mind and body were tight with stress from a morning full of deadlines, issues, and screen time.  At first, my head was still back at the office. But little by little, as I paused for a photo here and there, I became more mindful of my surroundings and my senses took the lead.  

The sights of dancing butterflies and bees softened my stressed face into smiles. The sounds of birds and insects brought a song of joy to my heart.  The fresh air and scented flowers filled me with new energy. The breeze and sunshine on my cheeks felt invigorating. I was like a new woman, at least for that day! 

That particular day helped me personally and profoundly experience some of nature’s health benefits that I had been reading about.  This field of study has grown from Dr. Qing Li’s research on shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, in Japan. Since then researchers in the U.S. and beyond have studied the benefits of forests, parks and green spaces.  Essentially, through science, they are trying to understand nature’s wisdom. 

A growing body of research suggests that time spent in nature can provide numerous health benefits.   Research compiled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html) states: “Exposure to forests and trees: boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus even in children with ADHD, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy level, improves sleep.”  Wow, that’s quite an impressive list of benefits, check out their extensive bibliography too.

Recent research looks beyond “if” being in nature is beneficial and asks “how” it might work. One theory suggests having all the sensory stimuli might reduce brooding.  Essential oils such as pine and cedar, have also been studied for their positive effects. Even elements in the soil may produce mood-enhancing effects. This is a young field of study based on ancient ideas, and the results are looking promising!

 So next time you want to feel restored and rejuvenated, visit a natural area.  And when you get to your favorite place in nature, let your senses take the lead.

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