Since making ‘Earth Vessels’ within nature, I’ve accessed a new level of replenishment. There are days when I wake, aware that my energy system is depleted, yet I carry on with my day, hoping it will somehow reset. My energy feels scattered or ungrounded and even working with clay in my studio doesn’t totally bring me back into balance.
If I’m truly listening to my body and honouring what it needs, I take myself off to the woods, behind my house. This simple act of walking in nature, breathing in the aromatic air and focusing my attention on something much more expansive than my peripheral life, heals me.
Anna, in Dr. Quig Li’s audio book, Shinrin-Yoku (2018), says:
“As I look around, across the landscape, I can almost feel my brain untangling…The only solution for me is to be in nature…Sometimes it’s as if the answer I’m looking for is in the trees and all I had to do was get there”.
As Li (2018) also shares, the concept that humans have a biological need to connect with nature has been called Biophilia from the Greek meaning ‘love of life and the living world’. In 1984 The American Biologist, E.O. Wilson believed that because we evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it. He also believed that connection with nature is as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet – it is fundamental to our well-being. ‘Hope rises on it’s currents’ wrote Wilson – we are hardwired to affiliate with the natural world’.
So inherently, we all know how being in nature is good for our well-being, but why and how?
Why do we benefit from walking in the woods?
There are many factors at play, but a key one is how trees directly benefit our wellbeing. Trees do in fact communicate, they produce natural chemicals called ‘Phytoncides’ which when released through their leaves, help them to defend against bacterial and fungal infections and even warn other trees of imminent danger from predators.
An amazing example of this is how trees in the Savannah will release these chemicals when Giraffe start eating their leaves. Wohlleben, (2016, 2:13) explains that when a tree senses their leaves being eaten, they release the chemicals in the air and these travel to neighbouring trees downwind. Consequently, these other trees start to secrete a sour tasting chemical in their leaves so the predators (Giraffe) aren’t attracted to eat their leaves – isn’t that amazing…
How do Phytoncides promote Well-being?
The Phytoncides (aroma) produced by trees are a group of natural chemicals called terpenes and they are now proven to lower blood pressure, increase mood (help reduce depression) and even lower the risk of cancer in humans.
A study at the department of Psychology at Mei University in Japan has shown that the citrus fragrance of the phytoncyde D-Lemonene is more effective than anti-depressants for lifting mood and ensuring emotional well-being with patients with mental health disorders.
We can benefit from using these terpenes in our home to mimic the benefit of the forest. Obviously spending time in the forest (forest bathing) is most beneficial; but we can diffuse tree essential oils next to us while we sleep or while we work at our computer to gain a similar health benefit. I like to forage the needles (leaves) from pine and cedar in the woods while I walk, then when I’m back home I can drop some essential oil onto them in a bowl to use in the house. I’m fortunate enough to have a Japenese Hinoki in my garden, in fact it’s next to my bedroom window and scales the height of our house! These trees are famous in Japan for enhancing the now popular act of Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing). They fill the air in the local forests and hence are synonymous with Japanese culture.
Ultimately, using these tree and plant terpenes in your home will help to lower blood pressure and anxiety, clear our mind (so we can focus better) and even increase creative thinking. As Li (2018, Ch2. 24:16 – 33:03) states, researchers at the Universities of Utah and Kansas concluded that spending time in nature can boost problem solving and creative ability by 50%.
Which terpenes are most effective?
Terpenes can be classed in several groups (below) and each one will have specific benefits (such as D-Lemonene mentioned earlier). Trust your intuition when selecting one for your own use. I have a client who is allergic to pine for example, so we’re all different and need to trust our senses to guide us to what feels innately beneficial. Essentially however, all of these will help you gain equilibrium in your energetic system, lower blood pressure, gain clarity and even boost your immune system when used regularly.
- D-Limonene (lemon scent)
- Alpha Pinene (most common, with a fresh pine scent)
- Beta Pinene (smells more herb like as with Basil or Dill)
- Camphene (turpentine resonant aroma found in camphor, cannabis, neroli, ginger, rosemary, sage)
You may like to burn Palo Santo wood for similar benefits. The oils in this wood contain limonene and α-terpineol, another type of terpene.
This is something I use with my Reiki clients as it also cleanses stagnant energy during a healing session. Similarly, if you diffuse any terpenes into your home, you will also be ‘clearing’ the energy in that room.
Why does the act of gardening or playing with clay help us?
Li (2018, Ch2. 24:16-33:03) explains that there is also a substance in soil that when breathed in, makes us feel happier. This is a common and harmless bacterial called Microbacterium Vaccae. So when we turn the soil in our garden, dig holes to plant trees, or mow the lawn we are benefitting from this intoxicating smell and it’s bacterial contents.
This is why I feel so much better when I forage wild clay as oppose to using bought clay; the act of digging into the earth and scooping handfuls, releases vaccae and using it back in my studio continues to connect me with it’s grounding and healing properties.
Moreover, it’s not just the use of the clay, it’s the feel of it…and engaging the creative part of my mind. This is why being a regular gardener or potter is so healthy for you! I also recommend taking our shoes and socks off while hiking – particularly if you are on peaty soil..it feels amazing! If you engage your sense of smell whenever you are walking in nature, gardening or hiking you can increase the effects of the terpenes and vaccae by being more consciously aware of the healing benefit you are breathing in.
If you are ever feeling depleted or anxious try walking bare foot on dewy grass (earthing), lie on the grass face down and let the ground take your worries…smell in the fragrance of the earth. Or sit under a beautiful tree, gaze up and appreciate it’s wisdom, place your face next to it’s trunk and synchronise your breath with it’s vitality…trees have stories and messages to share with us if we truly listen. All these acts will bring you inner peace and well-being.
You can even ingest wild plants to gain benefit (please do check if it is safely edible first though!). Monica Gagliano, a revered biologist, decided to understand the profound effect plants have on us by consciously ingesting specific species. Her book ‘Thus Spoke The Plant’ is a mesmerising journey into the wisdom of these vegetal beings and what they have to share with us on an intimate and person specific level.
In summary, whenever we can combine a creative, enjoyable, physical activity with the healing aspects of earth, clay, nature and the forest, we are multiplying the health potential. Of course, first and foremost we need to make the time in our lives to do these things and become more conscious and present – how we become disciplined to do this is a topic for another occasion…but for today, just follow your heart into the forest – it will help heal you and bring well-being…
References and Suggested Reading:
Gagliano, M. (2019) Thus Spoke The Plant. Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/ (Accessed: 17 April 2023)
Li, Q. (2018) Shinrin-Yoko: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing. Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/ (Accessed: 26 April 2023).
Wohlleben, P. (2016) The Hidden Life of Trees. Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/ (Accessed: 10 July 2023)