By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
As more and more people continue to suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia, researchers are finding that spending time outdoors in nature has a very soothing and balancing effect on the nervous system and on the mind. The body’s ability to become entrained with the natural rhythms of the sun and the moon has been known for a millennium. As many us continue to spend the majority of our waking hours indoors and in front of an electric screen of some sort, the incidence of anxiety, depression and insomnia will continue to rise.
Part of the reason for this increase in the rates of depression and anxiety, even among Yoga practitioners, is that we are virtually connected and “on-call” almost 24 hours a day, due to the easy availability of cell phones, iPads, desktops, and laptops. Even on the top of remote mountain peaks, you see people calling their friends and family to let them know that they have ascended the peak safely. Of course, if you are traveling in the back county, it is important to have a phone available to use in case of an emergency, and there is certainly nothing wrong with sharing your jubilation when you have successfully ascend a mountain peak!
However, being on-call 24/7 doesn’t allow the body and mind to rest and unwind. In addition, by spending a vast majority of your time indoors, the natural circadian rhythm of the body and mind is disturbed, which makes it very difficult to slept. To make matters even more challenging, the blue light of most computer screens, televisions, portable devices, and cell phones directly prevents melatonin from being secreted by the pituitary gland. A healthy level of melatonin being secreted by the pituitary gland during the evening is critical to a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
In fact, the wavelength of the blue light of many electronic devices is in the same bandwidth as the wavelength of the light in the blue sky, during a bright summer afternoon. So, when the blue light of these various screens enters the eyes, the pituitary gland thinks it is daytime and shuts off the production of melatonin. This makes it almost impossible to sleep. When deep, restorative sleep is elusive, people often experience heightened symptoms of depression and anxiety; unfortunately these symptoms usually go hand-in-hand.
An easy way to help your Yoga students regulate their endocrine system, and, in turn, establish a healthy circadian rhythm that is entrained with the natural world, is by spending time outside. By teaching Yoga classes outside, your students will receive the benefits of a well-rounded class, in addition to the balancing, calming and nurturing effects of spending time in nature. In Japan, this method of healing is known as nature therapy.
I love the simplicity and effectiveness of this idea. If you are fortunate enough to be able to spend time in nature, especially in a forested area where you’re ensconced by verdant, green trees, you probably notice how much more relaxed you feel when you return home. Recently, I came across a Japanese term, Shinrin-Yoku, which essentially means forest bathing. It is part of their ancient and time-tested method of healing by spending time in nature.
In the last few years, there was a study done in Japan to clinically evaluate the effect of forest bathing on the human body. The researchers found that the participants in the study had lower levels of cortisol in their blood, lower blood pressure and heightened immune function for up to a month, from a single two hour session of forest-bathing. This form of natural therapy has been shown to also effectively diminish feelings of anxiety, depression, and ease symptoms of insomnia.
So, during the warmer months of the year, if you teach Yoga classes outside, you will quite easily, efficiently and effectively offer your students the benefits of forest bathing. To simply slow down, breath the fresh air and watch the leaves sway in the wind is soothing to the mind and the spirit. By simply teaching Yoga classes in a natural environment, you will be helping your students to heal physically and emotionally from a variety of challenging health situations, including anxiety, depression, anger, insomnia, and even high blood pressure!
© Copyright 2016 – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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