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Autumn Forest Bathing

In Japanese culture there is something known as Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to “forest bathing”.  Studies have demonstrated a wide array of health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems and for stabilizing and improving mood and cognition.  When people remember that they are a part of nature, not separate from it, and are related to all other beings in fundamental ways, amazing health benefits can manifest.

To really fold into the slowing down of the season of Fall, try to take as many walks in nature as you can muster. This will help you truly tune in to the Autumn energetics and reap some health benefits to boot.  Recently, researchers have started to look at the physical and psychological benefits of nature-based walking. Studies have shown that walks among the trees helps to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decrease heart rate
  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and inflammatory agents
  • Improve mood and cognitive abilities
  • Improve immune function

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, a walk outside is one of the best things we can do to strengthen the Lungs, which just so happens to be the corresponding organ of Fall. And what better time to walk in nature? The ground we walk on is now a carpet of Mother Nature’s confetti (fallen leaves), creating a satisfying crunch with each step. The trees are beginning to burst with vibrant color. And perhaps most importantly, the air has become clean and cool, the smells are warm and intoxicating. It’s almost as if the season itself is enticing us to breathe in deeply and slowly – to inhale not only an abundance of air, but also the beauty all around us. Those deep breaths are a treat for our lungs.

Fall: The Season of the Lungs and Large Intestine

The Lungs, considered a yin organ, are associated with taking in the new.  Emotionally, the Lungs coincide with grief, sadness and attachment.  When these emotions are left unprocessed, they can stagnate the lung channel.  However, when lung energy is flowing and balanced, one can experience enhanced clarity of thought, positive self-image and allow inner peace and joy regardless of circumstances.

Consider breathing in deeply on your walk, taking in every detail of your environment and embracing your current state of being. To help process your emotions: on the inhale, notice how you feel without judgement. On your exhale, release and let it go. You can even bring a bit of intentional thought to your breath with a mantra.

The other organ associated with Fall is the Large Intestine. This yang organ helps to release the old and is associated with how we flow with what life delivers. When the Large Intestine channel is blocked, we may notice an inability to let go, uptightness, stubbornness, stagnation and a negative outlook. However, when the Large Intestine energy is flowing and balanced, there can be an increased sense of relaxation, an ability to release what no longer serves and better flow and flexibility with life, in general.

With each step of your walk, allow yourself to let go of the stresses of modern life, embrace the gift of nature’s beauty, and release any tightness in your body and mind. To connect with a sense of flow and calm, try a walk near water.

Two of the best and closest places to experience some forest bathing are Petrifying Springs Park and Bong Recreation Area.  Both have bodies of water with trails that run alongside them.  Both are free and both are beautiful.  And if you want to take a little day trip, the Kettle Moraine State Forest has a lot to offer.  Not to mention, Door County is beautiful this time of year.  Wisconsin has a lot to offer when it comes to forest bathing and especially this year, we all need to get outside, reconnect with nature and ourselves and boost our immune systems.  So check the weather, grab a coat and a scarf and get out there before it gets too cold.  Your body will thank you.

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