As I researched the value of exercising in nature, an article popped up about "grounding." And this one, gentle readers, can be practiced right in your backyard, requiring nothing more than a chair.
Devotees of grounding do this. They take off their shoes and walk in the park, on labyrinths, or sit, unshod, in their own backyards, where they can get their bare feet in contact with the ground for a half-hour or so. In principle -- and this isn't a scientifically proven principle -- is that the negatively charged electrons in the ground neutralize the positive particles in our bodies that threaten our health and well-being.
Some sufferers of depression and anxiety swear by it, reporting it calms and soothes them. Again, not proven, but intriguing, no? I had a neighbor, long moved away, who practiced this, as did her family. Her husband would come home for lunch and sit out back in a lawn chair
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barefooted for a few minutes before returning to work. Some days he said he needed more than a few minutes.
I should try it, she said.
And I did.
I will report I, too, felt calmer, less stressed, was reminded of long-lost childhood summers, and that was nice. I am, of course, suggestible, and I didn't stick with it for long, so I am not your best judge. But I do go barefoot often, at least around the yard, and I like it. Grounding as a concept has been around since the 1920s and the wellness industry has cabbaged onto the trend, creating mats and bedding and wrist bands to mimic the effects of grounding, but I would give that a pass because it seems ridiculous, but perhaps these products have their uses.
One caveat. Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it, so do with that what you will.
The Japanese, especially those that live in crowded places like Tokyo, are fond of "forest bathing." This is not to be confused with the "air bathing," of which Ben Franklin was fond. Air bathing consisted of sitting at an open window, stripped stark naked while the breeze blows over you. I do not recommend this, especially in town.
No, forest bathing is about taking yourself out into the woods, surrounded by big trees, and walking slowly, contemplatively, with no other purpose than to be in nature, to breathe deeply, to notice the beauty and nuances of the natural world around you, and to leave the stresses of modernity behind. In Japan, this practice is known as shinrin-yoku, and trips to the forest are often led by certified guides, although they aren't therapists.
It has been around since the 1980s and was introduced by a government official in the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in Japan because he believed the Japanese people were in need of healing through nature. Forest bathing isn't hiking, or fitness or stamina. The goal is to reduce stress and depression, increase the immune system and improve one's heart and metabolism, and to generally boost overall well-being.
This is achieved by being in the forest, surrounded by trees and connecting with this environment through all our senses. I think my friends in the Czech Republic do this, too, although they don't call it forest bathing. Every day, rain or shine, most of the Czechs I know get outside and walk. It may be utilitarian -- getting to work, going to the shops -- but it also includes "making a walk." This is what they say, "would you like to make a walk?"
Why, yes, I would.
And on this walk, even in a small village, we end up on a trail of some kind, winding through a wooded space. We see others on the trail, often quite elderly neighbors, walking slowly with canes, bundled against the elements, rosy-cheeked and hale, even so. Along the highways, I often see flat tracks of forests -- what we would call "woods" -- with trails clearly visible among the trees, and always people walking. It appears that they are just walking, not especially going somewhere, although they might end up at a friend's or a relation's at the end of the journey. But it seems more recreational than that, more medicinal, but without the pedometer or the Fitbit or the heart rate monitor. It seems natural, healthy, calming and congruent, which is an old counseling term that means, basically, physical, emotional and psychological alignment.
Something to think about. Maybe I will see you out there, strolling among the trees.
Greta McDonough is professor of human services at Owensboro Community & Technical College and author of the book, "Her Troublesome Boys: The Lucy Furman Story." Her column runs each Wednesday in Community. She can be reached via email at email@example.com. Greta McDonough is professor of human services at Owensboro Community & Technical College and author of the book, "Her Troublesome Boys: The Lucy Furman Story." Her column runs each Wednesday in Community. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.