Shinrin yoku

This post is reblogged from Scott Dunlap’s blog, “A Trail Runner’s Blog.”

Ever since I started trail running on a daily basis, I have felt a noticeable improvement in my well-being. I feel less stressed, I get sick less often, and I’ve found a spiritual calm that keeps my optimism brimming through the seasons. Many of you have shared similar experiences, and one has to look no farther than the smiles at the finish of a trail race (and growth of the sport) to know it is pervasive. That magical combo of exercise and the great outdoors creates a meditative synergy that works wonders for the soul, and we just can’t get enough.

We aren’t the only ones tapping into the healing powers of the outdoors, it appears. Japanese doctors, long time proponents of meditation and exercise, have been taking a closer look at the power of forests. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest bathing”, involves contemplative walks through the woods to reconnect with nature, and has proven to lead to decreased stress, natural mood elevation, and even a stronger immune system. Take a luxurious walk, engage all five senses, inhale the “phytoncides” emitted by plants, and your body and soul get stronger.

The Japanese government continues to investigate and promote the healing properties of nature. One study conducted across 24 forests in Japan found that when people strolled in a wooded area, their levels of the stress hormone cortisol plummeted almost 16 percent more than when they walked in an urban environment. Even after just 15 minutes of walking, subjects’ blood pressure showed improvement. But one of the biggest benefits may come from breathing in those chemicals called phytoncides, emitted by trees and plants. Women who logged two to four hours in a forest on two consecutive days saw a dramatic reduction of stress hormones and a nearly 40 percent surge in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells.

In one of my favorite parts of the studies, research has shown that the emotions of pleasure and happiness are elevated with an increase in tree density within specific settings, even in urban settings. The bigger and denser the trees, the higher the scenic beauty scores. Yup, that sounds about right! I suspect this also contributes to the sense of awe that we feel when immersed in the grandiosity of Mother Nature.

Perhaps this is just confirming what we all intuitively know. Get outside, engage with nature, and you will feel healthier and more connected. As silly as it sounds to say “forest bathing”, it feels accurate! It’s also a good reminder we don’t always need to always be running, and that a 15-minute stroll is more than enough to improve your day. I’ll be taking a few pauses on my runs this week to make sure all five senses are fully engaged. Smell the pines, taste the pollen in the air, feel the ferns, hear the creeks, watch the butterflies….you know, take a forest bath.

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Writing, Depression & Other Things

With hands grasped in gratitude, I greet you on this beautiful day.

It’s a long weekend for me and I am happy to be enjoying an extra free day off this weekend. As I sat, my soul warmed with another cup of coffee and my Kindle, my mind began, as it often does to wander. I began to think about writing. It has been three months since my last post and almost three months since I have worked on my book.

It has also been almost three months since my last consistent run. This “streak” was interrupted just once by an attempt to test my knee. This “test” failed miserably and caused additional pain. I have had x-rays completed but the physician refused to discuss them with me when she believed this injury had been caused at work. This despite the numerous pages of information which I completed explaining the injury took place as a result of running. I find this to be an indictment of the current state of our medical profession and one, which within my own practice I work terribly hard to avoid. Regardless, I will reschedule with another physician and secure an accurate diagnosis.

Each week which goes by offers me increasing hope as the pain and discomfort continues to decrease. For this I am thankful for it offers some hope the injury will not require a surgical intervention.

I was frightened by the notion that I did not miss running, especially those runs which allowed me to start my day with some modicum of balance.

I have been reflecting on the last year and in some cases wish I could call a mulligan and have remained at the job which I had prior to the start of the last year. Since this is not a possibility, I have reflected on what I have learned in this last year.

Not to be cliché but I have learned the grass is not always greener on the other side. I have also learned it is not a bad thing to be happy with the status quo, to not wish for more, of anything but to be happy or to find happiness in what I already have.

I was reminded balance can be found in such things, that to not see the balance which I already have and to seek something for which the definition is unclear causes one to experience greater imbalance in one’s life. I stepped from the frying pan into the fire. I saw my physical health be called into question and I saw my love for running also being called into question. It culminated in me experiencing a panic attack while out for a very early run. The panic attack saw me sitting by the side of the road in tears with passersby wondering what was going on for me at 4:30 AM. Shortly thereafter I saw my physician and began a course of medication to help me manage these symptoms. I began the search for alternate employment. Finally this goal was reached but emotionally I still felt empty; like a ship bobbing on the waves in the open ocean sails flapping loosely in the breeze with not enough force to provide the energy necessary to move forward. My meditation practice faltered and finally halted and also became nonexistent. I had hung my hat on one decision, one belief, that a new place of employment would provide all the stress relief which I would need. This solved a small portion of my problem, the remainder lied in my belief that there was nothing else to question. Depression set in followed by anhedonia and a general feeling of malaise. I continued to run but even these were forced. The love which I had previously had for waking early in the morning now became a chore instead of a salvation. I still enjoyed the solitude I felt but I also felt myself withdrawing into myself; feeling sorry for myself. Everything became a chore. I functioned on autopilot and left unchecked ends up causing an accident. This “accident” was my knee injury. Even my journaling which provided as much solace as did my daily runs and something with which I found respite, waned and became almost nonexistent. Daily writing fell off to one or two days each week, then once each week. There were weeks where I was lucky if I even inked a fountain pen let alone knew the whereabouts of my journal. I retreated more and more into my head and found reading to be my one remaining constant.

Slowly but surely my energy began to return. I am not fully there but I feel my hope, my desire to return to enjoying the run beginning to increase. It was at first difficult for me to accept the fact that I could not run, despite knowing further pain and injury would certainly follow. This summer, one of our warmest on record and a time of year I look forward to running as it affords me the ability to run in only shorts and running shoes caused additional strain on my mood. Alas, it is what it is.

My own diagnosis is one which places a possible return to running around the turn of the year. Hopefully, with the advice of a doctor and the possibility of physical therapy I can at least comfortably return to some form of physical activity which will help ease my depression.

As I said in an earlier post, one of the greatest abilities we have, if we choose to accept it is our ability to be introspective.

Namaste

Namaste

The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. “Nama” means bow, “as” means I, and “te” means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

To perform Namaste, we place the hands together at the heart charka, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart. This is an especially deep form of respect. Although in the West the word “Namaste” is usually spoken in conjunction with the gesture, in India, it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namaste, and therefore, it is unnecessary to say the word while bowing.

We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation.

For a teacher and student, Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom.

Ideally, Namaste should be done both at the beginning and at the end of class. Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow—the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart.