By KATIE FINCH
For Jamestown Audubon
I recently read an article about the benefits of time outdoors in this month's Outside magazine. Some people know that spending time outside is inherently good even if they can't explain why or measure the benefits. For those who are more analytical who need the facts, the facts are coming. There is existing research that shows that being in nature reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety. What's new is that researchers are now looking at why that happens. Scientists in Japan are studying what happens to our bodies- our brains, blood and immune system- when we go for a walk in the woods. They are asking what really goes on at the molecular level to cause beneficial change.
Bald Eagles perched over Big Pond. Photo by Katie Finch
This article by Florence Williams, cleverly titled"Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning" affirms what I already believe. Being outside is good for my mind, soul and my body. The research component was fascinating, but what I really liked about the article was practice of "forest bathing".
The Japanese introduced the beneficial practice of "Shinrin-yoku" or "forest bathing" in 1982. Before your imagination starts running wild, this has nothing to do with jumping into cold running streams or the removal of any dirt or grim from your body. The Forest Agency of Japan promotes this as a form of relaxation and stress management.
Forest bathing is simply spending time in the forest and accessing nature with all your senses. Proponents recommend that you spend 2 hours in the forest but only walk one or two miles. So it is not strenuous exercise. If you are tired, rest. If you are thirsty, drink. If you want to sit down, sit. It is so amazingly simple, why even give it a name? Yet, how many of us spend unplugged, quiet time outside on a regular basis? Perhaps by naming this practice, it gives credence to it as a treatment for our ills, just as much as a pill or a visit to a doctor.
For me "forest bathing" is a new vocabulary word I can't wait to put into use. I imagine this type of dialog at work. Someone asks, "Where's Katie?" Another coworker answers, "Oh, she just went out to take a forest bath break." Actually, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could turn our smoke/junk food/coffee breaks into forest bathing breaks?
Amid the rush of the holidays, the joyous but sometimes stressful visits from family or the break in school and work, take a forest bath at Audubon. Our trails are open 7 days a week from dawn until dusk for ambling strolls, unplanned adventures and new discoveries.
Or, just come down for a visit to the nature center. We are breaking the rules of our winter building hours and opening our nature center during the holiday week. From December 26-28, we are open 10:00am-4:30pm. Our regular hours apply after that, so Saturdays and Mondays we are open 10:00am until 4:30pm and Sundays 1:00-4:30pm.
If you are looking for something with a bit more structure and purpose, we are offering activities each day of the break. Exercise your intellect on one of our programs. On Wednesday, December 26, at 10:00am, see how we take care of Liberty, our captive Bald Eagle on the Behind the Scenes Eagle Tour. Learn about the life and history this magnificent bird of prey and then find out all that goes into caring for Liberty.
On Thursday, Dec. 27, and again on Saturday, Dec. 29, at 10 a.m. take a hike with a naturalist. You never know what you'll discover on Audubon's trails. Whether it's waterfowl on Big Pond, muskrat tracks in the mud or snow or overwintering moths, you will be sure to learn something new.
On Friday, Dec. 28, at 10 a.m., see some of Audubon's live animals up close at the Christmas with the Critters program. Meet our turtles, frogs and snake and learn about some of the adaptations they have to survive. Did you know toads and frogs use their eyes to help swallow their food?
So whether your intention is to relax, explore, learn or just get out of the house for bit, come down to Audubon after the holidays at take a nature break. The cost for all programs is $7/$5 Friends of the Nature Center. For Christmas with the Critters, check out the Giving Tree in the lobby of the Center to bring a gift in lieu of admission.
The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania. For more information about the programs and activities of Jamestown Audubon, call (716) 569-2345, or click to jamestownaudubon.org
Katie Finch is a naturalist at Audubon.