It would seem obvious that hiking in the fresh air and in a quiet environment would be beneficial to our health and well being. I think this would be hard to dispute. While I don’t think there needs to be a scientific answer to everything. Yet I do think being aware of how we are feeling in the moment, can be very helpful in a therapeutic way. Being able to recognize what a good feeling actually feels like, is different from an affirmation of ‘this is how I’m going to feel.’ Its very much like happiness, we are always striving to be happy, but happiness comes when we least expect it.
Often it happens when we are immersed in something outside ourselves, which has been my own experience. While it can’t be denied that happiness can be found inside ourselves. I think our minds are becoming overloaded with data, due to our very busy lives and constant exposure to social media.
Our brains are having to filter much more information and adding to the problem is, the shallowness of this information. This mainly comes to us in bite size pieces now. Looking at something more substantial requires our brain to reason and contemplate more. Yet in the mainstream media anything substantial is becoming harder to find. I was reading a book recently and on a page at the end of the first chapter were these words. “Congratulations, you are one of a select few who have made it to the end of the first chapter, please enjoy the rest of the book.” Then I wondered if it might of been better to issue the challenge on the front page. “This book has substantial content, are you up to the challenge?”
Hiking in nature.
Research shows that even brief interactions with nature can soothe our minds. Also it’s similar to immersing our minds in something more complex and at some point, reaching a state of flow. Nature has its own unique qualities. The benefits of hiking in nature are, decreased anxiety, brooding and negative emotions. Also decreasing ruminations, the habit of thinking over and over about causes and consequences of negative experiences. “Shirin yoku” a term that means” taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing,” was developed in Japan in the 1980’s. Consequently becoming a corner stone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
Various studies have concluded that inhaling air containing essential wood oils given off by plants. Also the sound of birds, cool air, green leaves, trees, wild plants and grasses. Finally coupling this with the atmosphere of the forest, all leading to a very calming affect.
I have had all of these experiences myself. My sense of calmness comes from open countryside, green fields and country lanes, with very few trees. I think this links to memories of childhood and earlier experiences of that beauty. Other people may see it in a similar way, or for the scenery in its own right. If I had lived around the forests of Canada, my bias may of been different. My experience is, that often every aspect of nature can happen on the one trail, forests, fields, mountains, rivers and the list goes on. When a part of the trail starts to meander through your particular idea of beauty and calmness. You can feel yourself smiling and drinking in the feelings. Nature provides a live and dynamic environment, which can lead to a sensory experience. This could be similar to putting your feet in an icy mountain stream.
Hiking in solitude.
Hiking in solitude, can create a different perspective from our everyday life. The longer you spend in solitude the more your perspective starts to change. A new way of seeing things begins to happen as our relationship with nature becomes more intimate. I think you come into an alternate grounding with the world around you. Losing any sense of hierarchy, or rights of possession. They no longer seem relevant to your experience. You only realize these feelings when you return to your everyday surroundings. For a while many things may seem odd or strange, because you have lost those formal boundaries for a while.
These higher level feelings of connection with nature take time and can’t be rushed. They come slowly, as the pressing thoughts you began with start to dissolve. While a high level of fitness helps, not in the experience itself, but in allowing you to forget about your body. Your more able to take your fitness as a given, which allows you to concentrate on inner feelings. As if you were in some way, separate from any bodily constraints. This can be seen as a form of walking meditation. How long you need to be in nature to achieve this, is a personal thing. Since it will depend on many variables.
Time in nature and what can be achieved is a personal thing, while our time constrained lives allow only brief encounters with nature, this can be all that’s needed to make a difference to our perceptions. Hence this can be in a forest. Walking along the beach. Visiting a local park or at a micro level buying a pot plant that will soften and enhance your personal space. Hiking, in my experience, can be a source of therapy and the benefits for me have been easy to feel. I would encourage you to find out for yourself, if the benefits I have found from hiking, will apply to you.