I have just returned from an eight day training with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapists.

Many things stand out from my time at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park amidst the Bay Laurel Forests in community with 24 artist-activist Nature therapists — 4 men and 20 women.

The language of effective, sense-based, Nature connection was a significant focus of the training. We talked about what words to use, how many, and the spirit/meaning behind them.

"Nature" was not favored.

"More Than Human World" was offered in its place.


I got it.

"More Than Human World" recognizes and honors sentience that is not human: Animal, Plant, Weather, Rock, Land Form. It is inclusive— akin to the Lakota, "All My Relations".

I like the way it feels to say it. 

I understand the linguistic frame of reference. It is more potent, reverent, respectful, and compassionate.

More Than Human World. Or maybe....

"More Than Human Realm".



Distillation: The Industrial Society Human

Nature exposure positively effects human physiology. The science shows this.

So what? 

How is knowing this science helping me connect more deeply to nature? What do I do with it?

And how about a distillation/summary of the research so that I can more easily understand  and work with it? 

Here is an infographic that I hope clarifies some of the science about the physiological stresses that a typical Industrial Society Human endures.

This is what we're up against. 


The Positive Effects of Negative Ions

When a molecule acquires an extra electron it becomes a negative ion and negative ions improve your health.

One study found that negative ion therapy was as effective as light therapy in subjects diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), a form of depression triggered by the coldness and darkness of winter. LINK

Indoor, heavily electrified, wireless environments give a positive charge to my body which increases blood viscosity (sludge) and systemic inflammation— conditions I want to avoid.

To balance my system after spending a day inside, I try to touch the Earth and ground my electrical body.

Another way to balance and ground is to spend some time with water: specifically—falling water, smashing water, whitewater, exploding water.


Out of such frothing waters come electrons: surges, torrents and mighty windy rivers of them.

They collect at the bases of waterfalls, at the beach where the waves crash and on the banks of rivers, creeks, streams and rivulets.

While being smashed and bludgeoned together, water molecules begin to throw off electrons. The ones residing in the outer S orbital of hydrogen atoms in H2O molecules are broken off from their bonds and are flung into the torrent - only to get reattached to the nearest positive charge - this is usually on an open bond of a neighboring molecule.

But what if that molecule that wants another electron is part of me?

— if it is one of my hydrogen atoms comprising one of my H2os? When that happens I feel good. Positive has met negative. Yin has met yan. There is wholeness in that water molecule that is part of me and I feel that.

I know,  on an embodied, molecular level, that I am balanced and whole. Complete. All-One. 

I smile an inward smile. A contented smile. A relaxed and parasympathetic smile.


Grounding With Free Electrons

The Earth's surface carries a negative charge which is maintained by a global electrical circuit.

This circuit is maintained by three sources: the solar wind, the ionospheric wind, and thunder storms.


The solar wind is comprised of electrons, protons and alpha particles streaming with great force and speed out of the sun. These particles are mostly diverted around Earth by our magnetic field, but significant amounts still reach us. LINK

The ionospheric winds blow in a region 50 to 120 miles above the Earth's surface and are caused by differential solar heating and the gravitational pull of the moon. These winds generate electricity when they come in contact with the geomagnetic field of the Earth. LINK


And 1,000 to 2,000 thunderstorms are constantly active around the Earth, unleashing thousands of lightning strikes per minute. These three electrical generators give Earth its negative charge. LINK 

The Earth is "Ground" electrically speaking. And ground is negative.

Up until very recently we used to walk, sit, live, and sleep on the Earth—directly on the Earth— with no insulating substances between us. As it turns out, this was good for us. It kept us electrically balanced, healthy, and grounded.


The Human body is electrical.

Our hearts need a spark to beat consistently, every neuron in our nervous system needs electricity to fire correctly. Our systems work best when they are electrically balanced. Our circulatory, nervous, and immune systems are enhanced by the negative charge of the earth. Specifically, it is "free electrons" or "negative ions" that are responsible for the healthful effects of grounding one's body. 

Until recently, humans were electrically grounded most of the time. They spent most waking hours outside and if they wore shoes at all, they had leather soles which did not insulate them from the electrical charge of the Earth.

These days, most shoes have rubber soles which insulate and prevent grounding.

Wood, asphalt, vinyl, any petroleum based product all insulate us from the Earth and don't allow our bodies to ground. It is common for people to go for days or even weeks without touching the earth and balancing their body's electrical charge.


Modern day, industrial growth humans spend much of their time in electrified landscapes, being bathed in electro magnetic fields (EMFs), and ever-present streams of cell, bluetooth, wifi, and microwave signals. These energies create a positive charge in the body, and produce free radicals which have been linked to chronic systemic inflammation which is linked to cancer, Alzheimer's, and heart disease. LINK

What are the physiological consequences of living in electrified (positive charge) environments in the absence of regular grounding?

- Higher blood viscosity (sludgy blood)

- Low grade chronic inflammation

- Higher blood glucose levels LINK


- Increased sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight)


These are serious, far-reaching, systemic symptoms, linked to many deadly diseases of the industrialized world. Billions if not trillions of dollars are spent every year fighting them., 

All of these symptoms are alleviated when subjects ground their bodies by touching the earth with a bare hand or foot. The balancing occurs immediately.

Blood viscosity, glucose levels, systemic inflammation , and sympathetic nerve activity all drop off significantly when grounded.

Being "grounded" is not a metaphor. It is a basic scientific truth governing life on Earth.

We need to touch the Earth on a regular basis. We need it for our bodies to function properly.


Agents of Forest Healing

The research shows it: wandering mindfully in forests positively effects the physiology of the wanderer. But why is this? What's in the forest that's absent in the city?

Is there something floating around in forest air? Maybe some kind of molecule?




They are volatile, odiferous compounds released by plants and trees, protecting them from microbial and fungal infections.

One study of a pine forest concluded that for every 2.4 acres of forest, eleven pounds of phytoncides were released in a 24 hour period. LINK

Forest air is thickly imbued with these compounds. When I walk in a forest I am immmersed in a sea of phytoncides - I draw them into my body.


What happens to me when I breathe them in?

My immune system get's a jumpstart. I am able to fight off infection and disease more effectively.

Japanese researchers isolated NK cells (white blood cells specializing in eliminating cancer and virus cells) and immunity proteins (perforin, GRN and GRA/B). Then they introduced the phytoncides Limonene and Pinene (emitted by conifers). They recorded significant increases in NK cell activity and amounts of intercellular perforin, GRN and GRA/B. LINK 


In another study, Cedrol, a phytoncide emitted by cedar trees was administered to subjects. After inhaling Cedrol, their heart rates, blood pressure and respiratory rates all decreased. LINK

Another study found phytoncide inhalation significantly reduced concentrations of urinary adrenaline and noradrenaline, indicating that phytoncides decrease activation of the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. LINK

The forest air is imbued with phytoncides - when I walk under trees I draw them in with every breath. They surround, infuse, relax, and calm me.

So it's not just that forests are nice to look at, listen to, smell, and feel.

There are measurable substances present in forest environments that positively change the physiology of the wanderer.



Diabetes and Nature Therapy


Diabetes is an increasingly serious, potentially overwhelming condition for healthcare systems across the globe. The World Health Organization recently published data showing that approximately 150 million people in the world have diabetes mellitus. This number is projected to double by the year 2025 with most patients hailing from the developed world. LINK

Exposure to Nature significantly reduces blood glucose levels in diabetes patients.

A 1998 study by Ohtsuka, Yabunaka, and Takayama tells the story, over six years, of 87 noninsulin-dependent diabetics that were given forest therapy treatments (3 or 6 km forest walks dependent on their level of physical fitness). In six years, the team gathered data on 237 individual forest walks. LINK

On average, blood glucose levels dropped from 179 before hiking to 108 mg/dL after.

Given that Diabetes effects the lives of 150 million people and costs approximately 825 billion dollars per year - finding effective, low cost, and readily available treatments would be wise. LINK

Nature Therapy looks like a good place to start.


Nature and the Immune System

Nature not only reduces symptoms of low grade chronic stress, but also stimulates the immune system.

I am more likely to remain healthy and strong the more time I spend in nature. And there is science to back this up.

A key player in the human immune system is the Natural Killer (NK) cell, a type of white blood cell (lymphocyte) that specializes in the elimination of cancer cells and ones infected with viruses. They do this by releasing proteins (perforin, GRN and GRA/B) that hunt down and destroy a targeted cell.


To test for immune system activity, scientists draw blood, count the NK cells present and test for intercellular concentrations of these proteins — thus determining the activity and robustness of the immune system.

In early September 2005, Juyoung Lee, Qing Li, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki from Japan's Chiba University and Nippon Medical School took a group of 12 people and tested their blood for NK activity in the urban setting. This was their "control". Then they went on a three day/two night trip to a forest area in northwest Japan. After the second day of hiking they took blood samples which they analyzed for NK activity and presence of the above mentioned proteins.

They found that the subject's NK activity had increased by 56%.

Not only that, but a month later, their NK activity was elevated 23%.

A month!

A separate study found that even short trips, a 30 minute walk in a city park, positively effect NK activity which remains significant seven days later.  LINK



Nature = Relaxed BodyMind

Chronic low grade stress is an epidemic effecting every age group and demographic in our industrial society.

In the body this manifests as a tight knot of muscle tension in the solar plexus – just below the rib cage and above the navel. Many people do not know life without this feeling.

It is a constant companion.


Accompanying this tightness are: increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Here then is some of the data gathered by researchers in Japan where most of the investigations have taken place:

Heart Rate Variability

Some background: When my sympathetic nervous system is engaged my heart beats in an extremely efficient and regimented predictable manner - ready to make the most of each beat to maximize efficiency of physical output should I need to fight for my life or flee from danger. So, the sympathetic "fight or flight" state equals a lower Heart Rate Variability.

Conversely, when I am relaxed, resting and digesting, my parasympathetic nervous system is engaged. My heart rate in this state is variable - not predictable. My heart does not need to maximize efficiency when I am feeling safe and relaxed - it can afford a few late beats or early ones that are not "on time". So a higher Heart Rate Variability shows I am more relaxed, that my parasympathetic nervous system is engaged.

Here's a graph from some of the research on Heart Rate Variability in subjects exposed to a forest environment vs. an urban environment.


The forest environment increased HRV in subjects meaning that their parasympathetic nervous system was engaged, meaning that they were more relaxed there.

 Salivary Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that is released when the body undergoes stress.

Here is a graph from the research showing the differences in subject's cortisol levels in the forest vs. the city:


In the forest subjects cortisol levels were lower. They were more relaxed.

Heart Rate - Beats Per Minute (BPM)

When I am nervous or stressed my heart beats faster. An increased heart rate is indicative of an activated sympathetic/fight or flight nerve response.

Another graph:


Forest=lower heart rate=less stress

City=increased heart rate=more stress



Blood Pressure

Consistent with lower Heart Rate Variability and increased heart rate is increased blood pressure. Here is the blood pressure graph from the research: 


Forest=lower blood pressure

City=higher blood pressure

Here’s the story, chronic low grade stress is dangerous. Really dangerous.

It contributes to most forms of heart disease, cancer and psychological disorders. It causes people to die many years before they should. It wears out the system – burns it out.  It’s a real good idea to prevent or manage it. Most allopathic solutions have been of a pharmaceutical nature— many of which come with side effects.

Mindful time in nature can alleviate many of the symptoms of chronic low grade stress. When a person walks into a forest or other natural landscape and slows down, looks around, appreciates where they are, opens their senses and just focuses on BEING – these symptoms subside.

But you already knew that.

Now you have some graphs and numbers to back that up.



How long has this been going on?

A compelling number that supports a Return To Earth is 200.

That's roughly how many years it's been since the Industrial Revolution when steam engines, interchangeable parts, and petroleum fueled a rapid exodus from the countryside to the city.

Another number of note is 200,000 - according to most sources, that's how long modern humans have roamed the Earth.

200 vs. 200,000.


This means that for 99.99% of our time on the planet we lived mostly as hunter gatherers, then as agriculturalists and for a thin slice of time as urbanized industrialists.

We used to live on the Earth. We slept on the earth. We walked for locomotion.

Considering these numbers it is not surprising that many of us feel anxious and unhealthy in our modern world.

Our physiology and psychology evolved in deep relation to the landscape.

What is now seen as normal behavior (living in buildings, driving in cars, sitting in chairs) has only been going on for .01% of our history.

Given this information is it any wonder that we feel more relaxed and at peace when we take breaks from the frenetic pace of industrialized life and immerse ourselves in natural, undeveloped landscapes?


Know Thine Enemy


Before sharing some of the research being done in Nature and Forest Therapy I will write about anxiety and depression, two conditions we are trying to heal with Nature exposure. They are part of the sickness and nature is the Cure.

Some quotes:

 "Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health." Link

 "Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year." (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27)

 "About six million people are affected by late life depression, but only 10% ever receive treatment." (Brown University Long Term Care Quarterly, 1997)

Some writers and thinkers claim that being alive at this time on the planet means feeling the threat of our own demise, calling it "extinction anxiety". Link

For many of us, just the pace of our lives is dangerous - a chronic state of urgency - never being on time, not having enough time, never going fast enough, doing enough, making enough, to keep up on the merry go round that is participation in the industrial growth society. This leads to higher blood pressure, increased heart rates, higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our systems, and increased systemic inflammation. All of these combined can cause a person to age more quickly and die younger.

Some describe this state of mind as having the gas pedal floored while at the same time stomping on the brakes. Most people feel stress and anxiety in their solar plexus - just above the navel - a tense knot of energy.

As the pace of life continues to speed up and get more demanding and complicated it is ever more important to seek out effective,safe, healthy treatments to balance and sooth ourselves. Traditional solutions for stress, anxiety, and depression have mostly been medication and, at times, talk therapy. Both are useful and necessary in some instances, but Nature is one of the oldest and most effective treatments for what ails the modern heart-mind and it also puts much of the responsibility for healing into the hands of the patient.

Before deciding to slay the dragon it is important to understand its nature. How strong, pervasive and established are the dangers of anxiety, stress, and depression? What am I up against? 



I believe in the healing power of Nature experience - especially when combined with mindful breathing and taking inventory of my senses. It works for me. I feel the positive healing effect of spending time in wild places. Even in more developed natural surroundings like city parks, Nature Heals. I believe.  

But not everyone is like me (thankfully).

Some folks need numbers.

 They want proof. Maybe they're from Missouri (the "Show Me State"). 

In the next few posts I will share facts for the skeptics and cite research being done in the field of forest therapy where researchers are measuring the effect of Nature exposure on: blood cortisol levels, immune system function (killer T-cells), blood viscosity, blood pressure, heart rate, and the electrical charge of the body.

Interesting stuff, and its measurable.  

Even though I'm a believer, I am not a gullible knee jerker. The research I will share has helped me to feel even more committed to this path of sharing Nature's healing power with more people.  

Stay tuned. . .  



"The Dimensions Are Just Right"

I was on a hike with a friend of mine once. We were up Rock Creek, a drainage of California's Owens River. The granite cliffs yawned thousands of feet above our heads in all directions, encrusted with flaming orange and neon green crustose lichens, creeklets vaulting in crashing cascades, the sun, the crisp air - it   was a symphony of mountain flavors.

We were both moved by the gestalt of the experience. Divine.

I said something like, "Gee. Everything here is so big and I feel so small." It's a cliche. People say this kind of thing in places like Upper Rock Creek quite frequently. My friend listened to me and then she was quiet for a moment. Then she spoke.

 "I don't feel small here at all. The dimensions are just right. We are as big as we are. And this place is as big as it is. It's supposed to be this big and we are just the right size."

I felt lovingly corrected. She was right.

We humans spend so much of our time in manufactured landscapes, especially made for us - complete with cup holders and seat heaters - that we lose touch with the reality of life on Earth. We are in relationship with the rest of the vast, wondrous, numinous creation. We're not the main part of the show.

We're just people.

And people are smaller than mountains.


No Bigs

Sometimes I get a little fascinated with my own story. I get caught up in the happenings of my life, whether it is going the way I want it to, if I have made the right decisions, am doing the right thing, am going in the right direction and so forth. Story. All of the things I have done and that I dream to do. All of it is not really who I am. I get caught up in it though.

I was caught in it recently, and then I went for a bike ride in the woods under a full moon. I felt my story begin to lose some its power, to fade away and in its place was the beauty of the forest - the fragranced air, the loamy earth, the countless trees, shrubs, insects, creatures, stars, the moon, other celestial bodies. All of it together just soothed and calmed me. I began to see myself and my story in context - in relation to the forest and the earth that holds me always. So affirming and comforting and so much less dramatic. And refreshing.

I find that in nature it is hard for me to see my story as being that important or worth worrying about. I am able to let it just be and just exist as a small part of the much larger story that is this One Life We Are Together.

Ahhhh. No Bigs.


The Ethers Emerge

I have come to realize that when there is erosion - when there are larger bits of the earth being ground into smaller bits - in that space - something is released - particles, gasses, elixirs, ethers, essences -

When the wind blows on the cornice and sends ice crystals into whirling funnels - when water rolls over a sand bed and sends up plumes of granules, dirt in the wind, bits of tree, flower, branches blowing by in gale force - when there is sufficient power to move pieces of the earth around and reshape the land - there is power there - there is energy and something is released -

Maybe that is why I love rivers so much - because I know that always when I am floating on a river or when I sit next to one that not far from me there is a process at work - that the water at its deepest and haviest and most powerful is moving and grinding away at the bedrock beneath me. I remember once hearing from some friends in CHile that had just paddled on a river close to Santiago - they said the sound of the whitewater - the roar of the water on the surface - was drowned-out by the clacking of the boulders thrashing about below their hulls.

That kind of force releases bits and pieces - shards of rock are bludgeoned from large boulders and they become rocks and those become pebbles and those become sand and those become talc and those become the ethers of rivers - glacial flour - the flour of the river - a faint dust from boulder to dust and all done by water. When that happens - there is more surface area to react - like the classic chemistry demonstration: candle in the bottom of a sealed five gallon bucket with a turkey baster of flour sprayed into it. Boom!

All that surface area of the flour granules burns immediately and there is a large explosion. The more surface area, the more opportunity for reaction.

More opportunities for reaction... opportunities for connection. When I am surrounded by the tiny bits and motes of the earth and life and body floating around in nature that are not filtered out I am bathed in some of the wisdom of the place. I take it into my body. Breathe it in. Since I am in the middle of all of that surface area I too have more opportunity to burn and connect and react with more of that place.

So when the water flows or the wind blows and things begin to move, to sway and grind and roll around, life is more animate. It is more spirited. The holy belly is unzipped... the ethers emerge.

Sense Photographs


I have a favorite writing activity  when sitting in Nature. It's simple and it alway brings me further in.

I follow my intuitive heart to an appealing spot to sit. Once I find the spot and make sure it is the right one, I take out my sit pad and maybe put on an extra layer to ensure I will remain comfortable while sitting. I might take a drink of water, or maybe have a snack. I take care of my needs.

Then I open my journal to a blank page and write,

 "I see..." and I look around and feast on the visual stimulation that greets my eyes - then I write all of the things I see. I write for a while - I try to capture all of the sights I am seeing - I get into the details and describe as best I can.

Next I write,

 "I hear..." and I do the same thing - focussing on specifics of what I hear and being as accurate as I can. 


 "I smell..."

 "I feel..."

 "I taste.."

And finally

 "I feel (in my heart)..."

I describe what I am sensing as accurately as I can. Each sense gets at least a paragraph....or more. I give myself over to the task of capturing in words all that I am sensing.

My goal for this is to create a piece of writing that will transport me back to this natural place when I read it in the future.

It is a written down, sense-based photograph.

By taking the time to focus on each of my senses and writing down what I am sensing, I go deeper into the moment and into my relationship with the Earth. My mind doesn't wander when I am engaged in this way.

I am more present.

They're worth reading later too. I collect them.

Good Racooning

The guide is not the teacher. Nature is the teacher. The guide is a space holder, an inviter, a person with ideas and suggestions. And a risk manager and caretaker who knows the cardinal rule of guiding well:

 "Bring 'em back alive."

And they carry first aid kits and satellite phones.

Raccoon in the First Nation Story, Jumping Mouse, is the guide. He is not particularly flashy or noticeable behind his mask. He understands that his little brother, Mouse, is looking for the source of the roaring in his ears. He takes him to the river, the source of the roaring, efficiently introduces him to Frog (The Spirit of Nature) and then he rolls - beats feat and goes in search of some food he can wash in the river. He makes sure Mouse is safely with Frog, then fades away to take care of his own needs.

He doesn't hang out and tell stories about all the other mice he's led to the River, doesn't brag about his accomplishments or talk about what a great guide he is. He just gets his client (Mouse) to the bank safely and introduces him to the next stage of his grand and transformative Adventure in the threshing hold of the Wilderness.

"Talk to Frog"  - that's it.

I admire and aspire to guide like Raccoon. Simple, safe, minimal intrusion with maximum opportunity for the client to receive a teaching from Frog (Nature).

Thanks Raccoon. Strong work. Barely even noticed you.

And with that said, Raccoon's role is absolutely critical. Mouse's journey would not have happened without him. He facilitates Mouse's connection. He's a logistician mostly with a sprinkle of Wise Animal— but not a show boat — just doing his job, moving curious Mice to the River. Show 'em the source of the roaring in their quivering, perceptive ears. Then....

it's Peace Out.



Nature is three dimensional. 

For example, a forest has length and width but also depth. The distance from loamy floor to sun-bathed  crown can sometimes be two or three hundred feet.

Deep container. 

When I move into the forest I enter it,  insert myself and my sense organs into the living body of the forest. It surrounds me from all directions - 360 degrees - up, down and to the sides.

In contrast, developed landscapes seems to have only length and width - a predominantly flat land. There are stairs and elevators that transport me to different levels in tall buildings but the levels themselves are flat— a series of connected platforms I can easily navigate. I am not challenged to think of my world as having any more than two dimensions most times. 

But Nature reminds me I live in a three dimensional womb-like container.

This is especially apparent on contact zones - borders between two and three dimensional natural communities, like when meadow meets forest.

I stand in a grassy meadow and appreciate the openness and sights that land on my eyes from a distance. And there is an obvious line - a border where the meadow grasses abut the first rank of forest trees - two dimensional meadow meets three dimensional forest. I try to notice these doorways - portals into more-apparent three dimensional Nature.

As I cross I sense the front of my body - my nose, cheeks, chest, the fronts of my legs as they pierce the membrane of the forest container. I am enveloped by the sights, sounds and sensations of this different natural community as I cross. 

Yet even when I'm inside a forest I sometimes get more interested and focussed on the two dimensional forest floor, the trail I am walking. I remind myself to sense up and down, to be open and to accept the sense-stimulus that comes from above and below as well as front, back and to the sides.

I am surrounded on all sides by gifts and offerings.

I keep myself oriented this way — open to receive and taste the flavors of three dimensional awareness.


She Abides

When I walk in more developed areas - cities, towns, villages - settlements - places where the humans have developed the land and covered it with roads and dwellings, I look around and spy the Wild Earth that the infrastructure is built upon. Sometimes I have to look into the distance for the crest of a near hill or ridge - I look for the roll and shape of the earth beneath the skin of development and paths of busy people, hunkered over devices, rushing along. 


Sometimes I play a game with myself and imagine that the concrete disappears - that suddenly I have stepped into a time machine and gone back to before the burgeoning expanse of humanity came to the place - I pretend that the roads, buildings, cars, concrete and blacktop vanish and there it is - the Earth - the wild world that abides beneath the encrustments of humanities often unconscious behavior.


I feel comforted, supported knowing that Earth abides beneath the sidewalk.  Urban/suburban development is new. The bulk of history is one of a fecund, soft, flowing ecology - a living breathing Earth filled with relationships.

See the land beneath the city - this kind of imagining has lead me to find the topography of developed areas - I find drainages, I see where the land has clefts, valleys, promontories that so often are obscured by the bridges, roads, and buildings of modern society. By pretending that  the development is gone I am able to appreciate and investigate nature in places where it seems to be absent. But Nature is always present. It does not matter what we have clothed her with - she is there - beneath the development.

She abides.