Reconnecting With Our True Nature
A Note from Philip Hosmer, Founder of NatureWorx
Not surprisingly, in a society where Americans spend 10 hours a day looking at electronic screens, 93 percent of their time indoors, and report more loneliness, depression and anxiety than ever before, we are reassessing our need for the nature we abandoned. We are looking back to Mother Nature to find our way again.
There is a wealth of data and evidence being generated across the globe on the positive impact on our mind, spirit and body of humans being in nature. Over the past 30 years, Japan has developed a medical specialty of evidence-based therapeutic nature activities based on shinrin-yoku, which is literally translated as “forest bathing.” Shinrin-yoku's definition has been expanded and is now referred to as “forest medicine.”
Dr. Qing Lee, Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, refers to the Japanese word yugen, a term for feelings that are too deep for words, that give us a profound sense of the beauty and mystery of the universe. Using all five senses, forest bathers mindfully take in nature in such a focused way as to connect deeply to the natural world and the web of life. And to experience yugen.
If this all sounds like tree-hugger magic, there is actually hard evidence behind it resulting from hundreds of published scientific studies. Dr. Lee and his colleagues have volumes of data built from three decades of research. By implementing surveys and monitoring vital signs, research teams have documented the positive effects of mindfully being in the forest: elevated mood, more consistent sleep patterns, reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, boosting of the immune system and lowering of heart rate and blood pressure. The Japanese have designed a network of 62 certified forest therapy bases and they are used each year by between 2.5 and 5 million people, many directed to go out in nature by their physician.
So if nature is medicine, and being involved with it provides a way for us to connect with the larger world and with ourselves, it’s logical to apply its benefits to those struggling to cope with the pressures and stresses of life in the 21st century.
To help others find their way home to nature and create balance in their lives, I founded a not-for-profit organization called Nature Worx in 2017. I was inspired by my father, who introduced me to the joys of time spent in nature at a very young age. When he died in 2017, I decided to build an organization that helped others experience the healing, peace and wonder of the natural world. My intent was to create a locally delivered program that enables participants to develop a relationship with nature, see it as a resource to their health and teach them practical skills to deepen their connection to the healing properties it offers.
Nature Worx is a mélange of disciplines that I have compounded, tested, and honed through real-time experience with our clients. The program is interactive and led by professional guides, who come from a variety of backgrounds: social work, substance abuse counseling, education, mindfulness, outdoor recreation and natural interpretation. The one quality our guides share is that they have strong group facilitation and people skills.
Our approach draws closely on the shinrin-yoku principle of mindfully using all five senses to experience the natural world and absorb its therapeutic qualities. But for those with limited experience outdoors, shinrin-yoku alone does not meet them where they are.
Our guides layer in elements of mindfulness, meditation and natural interpretation. We start by setting a context for what participants are experiencing, we teach tangible exercises and skills, and the group shares insights and wisdom at the end. Our approach creates several different bridges to nature for individuals to walk over. When and how they choose to cross a bridge depends on who they are and where they are in their journey.
The success of the program has led to relationships with veterans organizations, public school systems, substance abuse treatment facilities, colleges and universities, medical facilities, senior living facilities, women's shelters, private corporations, and nature centers. We are finding that COVID-19 has increased the need for our services as people realize the mental and physical benefits of time outdoors helps them cope with the many challenges related to the pandemic.
Nature Worx is part of an emerging global movement focused on using nature to help people heal. Our journey back to nature is being joined by many. We are going home.