Experts disagree about most things in life. Experts are paid to be cautious, pessimistic and risk-averse. On the subject of coronavirus, there are experts predicting massive sickness and death. Still, many Americans are healthy, and there are plenty of experts with evidence of the natural world’s power to combat sickness and disease. One such expert is Clemens G. Arvay. In his recent book "The Biophilia Effect," Arvay cites many other experts, whose research suggests an entirely different approach to protecting ourselves from illnesses, both physical and mental.
Another such expert is Professor Roger Ulrich, who proved in 1984 that simply viewing greenery and trees through a hospital window reduced post-operative complications and reduced the need for painkillers. Contact with plants is healthy and restorative. Plants around us can heal without having to be processed into salves, teas, extracts or tablets. Exactly, scientifically how they do this is the subject of Arvay’s book, and his message couldn’t be more timely right now.
The word “Biophilia” comes from Greek and literally means “love of life and living systems." All humans feel a deep need to be close to nature; we’re all part of nature and the cycle of life, just like all other life forms. What Clemens Arvay calls “the biophilia effect” comes when we connect with our roots. The biophilia effect stands for wilderness and natural beauty; for breaking free and healing. This is something that man has felt instinctively for eons; modern research has carried it from mystery into the realm of solid science.
It’s now proven fact that plants communicate using chemical substances. The way humans use words and numbers, and computers communicate with ones and zeros, plants send out over two thousand fragrances, most of them in the category of chemicals called “terpenes."
A forest is a large, highly complex habitat where thousands upon thousands of living beings communicate with each other, and with your own immune system. Time spent in the forest increases and stimulates your white blood cell count, elevates your level of anti-cancer proteins, and lowers your level of stress hormones. This is proven fact. “Killer” white blood cells detect cells in your body that contain cancer, tumors, and viruses, and kill them with cytotoxins.
A key to understanding the biophilia effect is that there is no separation between your mind, your body, and nature as a whole. Two distinct parts of your brain: the “reptilian brain” which maintains your vital functions whether you are awake or asleep, and the “limbic” brain, which monitors your surroundings for signs of danger, both control whether you are in “fight or flight” mode or can relax. Immersion in the natural world, and nature’s connection with your hardwired brain functions, allows you to distance yourself from stress-triggering situations. From a mental health perspective, nature is healing because it accepts you just as you are, non-judgmentally. In nature you are free to be who you really are. You can truly relax.
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with our perceptions of beauty. Beautiful surroundings have great power to soothe, relax and inspire us. Nature is our evolutionary home, full of aesthetic attraction; full of sights, scents and sounds that are powerful healers. We are instinctively attracted to calm, flowing water, fruit-bearing plants, shade trees, clearings or meadows scattered with trees or bushes; these are surroundings that naturally recharge us. Landscape designers know this, and integrate these features into parks and other landscapes.
In modern Japan, an officially recognized form of treatment called “shinrin-yoku” (translated as “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”) is promoted by the National Institute of Public Health. According to the ancient Chinese teaching of “qigong”, inhaling fresh forest air infuses your body with “qi” (life energy), and releases old and harmful substances. Ancient Greek hospitals had gardens for patients, integrating time spent in nature with medical treatment.
The bottom line is that our minds, our immune systems, and the natural world are like a three-legged stool. Separating us from nature invites disease by cutting off a vital part of our healthy lives. You probably realize this instinctively, but for a detailed explanation of why this is so, supported by expert scientific research, you should read “The Biophilia Effect." Hiding in our homes, cut off from nature and our fellow man, worrying and fearful, is the opposite of healing. And healing is what we truly need.
Perhaps it would be better to spend a day in Shawnee State Forest, the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, or some other quiet natural setting. Breathe the forest air deep into your lungs. Touch the forest floor with your bare feet. Hug a tree. Listen to the birds. Wade in a stream of clear, cool water. Clear your mind. I assure you you’ll feel better.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.
This article originally appeared on Chillicothe Gazette: Let's Grow: Don't underestimate the healing power of nature