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Natural remedies
The answer for relaxation could be in the woods

01/08/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 One of the most natural ways to de-stress is to go outside.

Beaver Brook Nature Center education/community affairs director Celeste Barr and outdoors educator Jake King spoke during recent phone interviews about how the outdoors can promote relaxation. 
“We’re being pulled in so many different directions [today], and we don’t always have time to de-stress. It just builds,” King said. “But nature does not move at a fast pace. We’re all animals, as evolved as we feel. We came from nature, and nature is a part of us. When we remove ourselves from modern-day stuff, we’re giving our minds and bodies a chance to reset, whether we realize it or not.”
The sun is an important aspect of the outdoors’ role in promoting relaxation and happiness; Seasonal Affective Disorder, after all, is linked to vitamin D deficiencies. But the power also comes from the fresh air, sounds of birds chirping, water flowing and the color green.
If it weren’t for the outdoors, King doesn’t know how he’d cope. King taught outdoor EMS clinics and was a fitness director for the YMCA, but he’s also seen his fair share of stressful jobs. He was a ranger in the Army, worked at a Manchester Youth Detention Center 13 years ago and was a police officer for seven years. Currently, he works as director of the Manchester Homeless Services Center. 
“I’ve been surrounded by high stress all my life, and the outdoors has been one of my key coping mechanisms,” King said. “For me, as soon as I cross into that threshold, about 15 or 20 feet into the woods — once mentally I know I’m on my way to removing myself from the hectic, everyday world — it’s as though a kind of weight is lifted off my shoulders. The longer I spend out there, the more relaxed I feel.”
Barr, similarly, has found that many who tackle Beaver Brook trails find a sense of peace while or after walking. Barr is very interested in the role the outdoors plays in one’s well-being.
“For many years, I wanted to create a regional initiative, to use nature as a prescription for good health,” Barr said. 
Beaver Brook hasn’t yet gathered enough resources to do this, but it has made connections with organizations (like the YMCA, who partnered with the nonprofit in promoting obesity prevention in Nashua) and even medical professionals. 
“There is a wonderful practitioner in Milford we’ve connected with, Andrew Jones, who works with Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Milford. He specializes in pediatrics and believes in a thing called ‘Green Exercise,’” Barr said.
There are physicians and doctors around the world, in fact, who’ve found a relationship between relaxation and the outdoors.
“It’s kind of interesting — there are medical facilities in Seattle that call it ‘Vitamin Green’ or ‘Vitamin Outdoors.’ [Medical facilities] are starting to incorporate getting people outside as part of their recovery programs. China is really big into it, too,” King said.
Both King and Barr are well-read on the topic, and they provided multiple links, videos and articles about scientists who’ve studied how the outdoors is healthful. 
Some call it “forest bathing” — Barr, for example, pointed to Yoshifumi Miyazaki, who presented a TED Talk in 2012 about nature therapy, and how just being in the woods causes your body to produce less of the stress hormone cortisol. Even receiving and looking at flowers, Miyazaki said, can make a difference.
Studies span across the spectrum, Barr said; Richard Louv, for instance, wrote a great deal about how simply the color green or a green space (a forest, a field, a lawn) can modify the behavior of a child with ADHD in a positive way.
Greenless places, too — specifically, the coast and the beach — are beneficial in their own rights as well, Barr said.
“There’s also evidence about the benefits of being near the water or near the ocean,” Barr said. “It’s probably why the majority of people in the United States live within an hour of the coastline. … The ions in the air near the coast have been known to have an effect on people’s brains and make them calmer, happier.” 
 
As seen in the January 8, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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