Prescription of Nature for Work Stress

I found out this week that I suffer from a condition called Biophila.

The fact that I love to spend time with my cat in the garden, listening to the birds, and breathing in the sea air, is rooted in my biology, and I’m not alone.

According to anthropologists, biophilia exists in all human beings. Literally it means “love of life and all living things”; it describes a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital.

We are hard-wired to seek out connections from nature – from pets and plants, to the birds and the bees. What’s more, as I have been discovering through Naturally Healthy month, it does us a lot of good.

This may explain why many businesses now are choosing wellness programmes and away days based on time spent in nature, rather than the more the more typical gym memberships and team-building days spent in a hotel conference centre.

There is a small but growing movement who understand that the perfect antidote to modern life and the time we spend in front of screens and in artificially-lit environments is nature.

The theory is that a significant amount of ill health, both physical and psychological, is down to Nature Deficit Disorder. To “Unplug and Recharge in Nature”, as some training programmes promote, has the benefits of reducing stress, lowering absenteeism, but boosting productivity and absenteeism.

Many are choosing to base their programmes around “Shinrinyoko”, the popular practise of “forest bathing”, which is literally immersing yourself in a forest for a period of time, taking in the atmosphere and breathing in all the goodness that it has to offer.

In Japan, thanks to the research of Qing Lee at Nippon Medical School, forest bathing is now a recognised stress management activity, and businesses are prescribing it for their stressed-out, burned-out employees to counter the effects of the noise, distractions, and over-stimulation of the technical world.

The benefits are well documented, and include boosting immunity, lowering cortisol levels, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, alleviating stress and depression, and boosting general feelings of wellbeing and positivity.

It could be as simple as a half day hike, or a 3-day, 2-night camp is most desirable, however, the focus is a lot different to other competitive team-building days. Heavy exercise or fast-moving, achievement-based activities are not important, or even encouraged. Instead the aim is to “enjoy the forest through the five senses – the murmuring of a stream, birds singing, green colour the fragrance of the forest, eating the foods of the forest, and just touching the trees”.

Put simply, exercising mindfulness in the natural environment of the forest.

Ideally, it is followed by a hot spring bath or spa. (I’m liking this idea more and more).

For me, I see the effect of nature every day I am lucky enough to take my classes outside. You may also notice it when you see someone who has come back from a weekend of camping. A student of mine just did a snowboarding expedition in Greenland, and by his own admission, it was one of the toughest challenges he’d ever faced with adverse weather conditions. Yet, he looks healthier and more vibrant than I have ever seen him.

I believe we know instinctively that nature is good for us, and this is why biophilia is such a powerful phenomenon, why we are drawn towards all that is alive and vital, especially the forest.

As Robert Louis Stevenson puts it so well:

“It’s not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim on man’s health, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanation from the old tress, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit”.

Amen to that.


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