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THE HEALING PROPERTIES
OF NATURE

ocean swimming

@josefinehj

FROM THE JAPANES “SHINRIN-YOKU” TO THE THERMAL BATHS OF IMPERIAL ROME, THE DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF NATURE HAVE ALWAYS PLAYED A FUNDAMENTAL ROLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLE’S PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELL-BEING. CONTACT WITH RELAXING, NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS IS BENEFICIAL FOR MUSCLE AILMENTS AND ALSO TO RELIEVE STRESS AND MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPIER AND MORE ALIVE. 

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza

We are one with nature. Despite the sophistication of our habits and having shaped the world to adapt it to even the smallest of our needs, we are animals and therefore part of the environment. A special type of energy lies in forests, lakes, seas and mountains. We can feel it just by going for a walk. If we want to relax after a stressful week in the city, going to the country always seems like a pleasant, almost logical option. But… What is the truth behind this feeling?

puppy on beach

@matildadjerf

Knowledge that comes from Asia

Perhaps you have had a hectic week, five meetings in a row the same day, barely time to cook, and you have spent two hours a day commuting. To top it off, your neighbours have decided that it is a good time to reform the kitchen. Now think of a clearing in the middle of an oak and birch forest: the breeze caresses your face, you can feel the fresh, wet grass between your toes, and you smell the invigorating fragrance of wood emanating from the canopy. Almost nothing is heard, just the distant twittering of some birds and the soft crunch of the leaves swaying in the wind. Just imagining this environment already helps you reduce the stress and anxiety caused by the frenetic daily life.

In Japan, there is a term called shinrin-yoku or “forest baths”, also popular in neighboring countries like Korea. This technique consists of going to a natural area rich in vegetation and letting all your senses connect with the vegetation around you, and for years it has been recommended by doctors to alleviate the negative effects of urban life on people’s health. For just under five years, this way of taking advantage of our biological and psychological connection with nature has been introduced in Europe. In places like Scotland or Spain, some doctors are recommending walks to fight stress.

While it is well known that travelling to the countryside is good for your health, this recommendation was not among those prescribed by doctors for a long time. In contrast, in Japan, the authorities were able to connect the country’s Shinto tradition with the benefits of contact with nature. In the 1980s, as city populations and their stress levels grew in tandem, the Japan Forest Agency launched an initiative that became a huge success. Today, up to 5 million Japanese enjoy forest baths every year, including slow breathing exercises and relaxing walks in one of the many forests that cover the country. This drug-free treatment has proved to be very effective in treating the effects of anxiety in a population under high pressure in their daily lives.

forest photoshoot

@matildadjerf

aesthetic forest

Photography by Matthew Gibson

What is in it for your body

Every day, dozens of obligations fill our time and our thoughts. From the demands of the boss at work to insurmountable social events. Appointments follow one after another, and we must think about what to buy at the supermarket, when it is a good time to book the summer holidays or how much washing machine soap is left. All these data are accumulating in our brain and prevent us from relaxing completely. When we move away from the city and into the canopy, something changes inside us and we feel better. Cortisol is a biomarker related to stress, and some studies from the University of Chiba in Japan have demonstrated that its concentration level is smaller in people who spend more time in nature. In the countryside, thoughts related to the city’s obligations and planned events give way to others related to joy, tranquillity, and various positive emotions. This has positive effects not only on anxiety levels, but also on blood pressure, sleep, anger and fatigue levels, and the functioning of the immune system.

In view of how beneficial spending time in nature is, why not do it more often? It doesn’t matter what kind of landscape you have close to home. Just go outside, stay away from the noise, and breathe clean air. Breathe slowly, listen to the sounds of the natural life around you, and walk. It is not about getting to a specific place, so you don’t need to hurry. Just walk at a pace that is comfortable for you, and stop to rest or admire the surroundings when you need to. Let go of negative thoughts, your busy schedule, and whatever is a burden on your brain, and connect with yourself. This is therapy available to everyone and that will do you good regardless of your age and circumstances. Just enjoy it.

“When we move away from the city and into the canopy, something changes inside us and we feel better.”

Water is life

If you have already started to think about a relaxing weekend away from everything, it is possible that it has occurred to you that a hot bath could also be a wonderful idea. The same thing happened to me. While the hot tub as we know it today is a modern invention from the mid-20th century, the importance of bathing and the social rituals associated with it has been with us for thousands of years. From Classical Greek hot stone baths and Roman thermal baths to Japanese hot springs, we have always known that mineral water makes us feel good.

Hydrothermal treatments increase blood oxygenation, improve metabolic functions and get your body to eliminate toxins. In addition, they help you relax and have very positive effects on muscle pain and skin conditions.

Whether it’s water heated by fire-roasted stones, natural springs, or combinations of hot and cold baths to relax your muscles, undergoing a hydrothermal treatment will help you feel better inside and out. In Asian countries such as Bhutan or Japan, many people go to resorts that have a temple touch, and where the moment of bathing is covered with a thin but palpable sheet of mysticism. These traditions have been lost in the West, but at the beginning of the last century it became very popular for wealthy people to spend rest periods in fancy spas in the countryside. These were health cures, and it is still possible to enjoy many of these places today. At Staiy we recommend you to google the closest one and book a session of a few hours, or an entire weekend. You won’t regret it.

Hydrothermal treatments increase blood oxygenation, improve metabolic functions and get your body to eliminate toxins. In addition, they help you relax and have very positive effects on muscle pain and skin conditions. After an intense week at work or an exhausting sports competition, a visit to a spa will leave you feeling like new. Or just surprise your partner with this treat on a special occasion. It is up to you how you want to enjoy this gift of nature.

@josefinehj

Our future is in nature

Are these all the direct benefits of nature for our health? Of course not. Despite coming in the form of pills and other ultra-processed industrial products, many current solutions to various health conditions come from plants and other natural resources. The active principles of many drugs have this origin. Known as genetic resources, their sustainable use is essential to guarantee their future availability and also the preservation of the ecosystems from which they are extracted. These also include animal or microbial resources and uses as diverse as specific agricultural crops or animal breeds.

The place of origin for many of these resources is in the tropical regions, the most biodiverse ones on the planet. We still have a lot to learn from the close relationship with the nature of indigenous communities in many parts of the world. Latin American native peoples, for example, often resort to natural remedies to deal with common ailments, and they are custodians of immense biological treasures without being aware of their value. This is the reason why various civil society organizations and UN agencies have carried out informative actions on the ground in recent years, in countries such as Panama, Ecuador, and Honduras. Facilitating that governments create legal frameworks in accordance with the Nagoya Protocol and that local communities are aware of their rights to natural resources is vital to ensure that they endure.

What you can do

It is essential that we all do what we can to conserve natural areas, raise awareness, and support initiatives that promote any form of sustainable consumption. Those who best know natural resources are the ones from whom we must learn. We are part of nature, and when we are close to it we feel better. So preserving of our forests, our seas and our rivers also means preserving ourselves and our future. You can think about this the next time you take a walk in the countryside, travel to a beautiful remote place or take a dip in the sea or in a mountain lake. Feel nature with your five senses, let it clean every pore in your body and erase negative thoughts from your mind. And, above all, be aware of how important it is to love and care for her. Just as she loves and cares for you.