About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Names and identifying details have been changed on any person described in these posts to protect their identity.

Take It Outdoors for Better Health

Much of my childhood was spent outdoors. It was a time when kids could run freely around the neighborhood and explore their natural surroundings without worry and very much supervision. For me this translated into turning over rocks in the woods to look for salamanders and time crouched by our neighborhood brook studying the minnows. Family time also meant time outdoors, hiking in nearby state parks, picnics, and vacations spent camping in the big woods. It was a good way to grow up and it was good for my health.

As a kid, I had the heart of a couch potato, so going outdoors got me moving. Hiking, swimming, exploring new habitats, and just wandering all over my neighborhood kept me active. I had no problem handling small critters and digging in the mud, which also helped by strengthening my immune system.

Chinese medicine and nature for healingMore and more research studies are concluding that spending time in green spaces—woods and gardens and parks—is beneficial to your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Walking in the woods has been shown to decrease feelings of stress and depression, increase immunity, and lower your blood pressure. In addition, being outside in nature is an opportunity for spiritual growth, as it offers you a chance to contemplate and connect with the wonders of the divine.

Many of the foundations of Chinese medicine are also based on patterns in nature. When you get sick, you may exhibit signs of heat, cold, wind, or dampness. The healing properties of food and herbs are an important of treatments, and the path to good health follows the dictates of nature. This means being more active in the late spring and summer, harvesting your food in the fall, and hunkering down and conserving your energy during the winter months.

While I would love to be outside all day every day, some days (and even weeks!) it’s just not possible. There are however, some ways to connect with nature even when you’re not able to get out into the woods to hike for hours or camp for days. Among them:

-Go barefoot. In Chinese medicine, the bottom of your feet are considered to be a microsystem, in which your entire body is represented on the sole of your foot. According to microsystem theory, any pain or illness in your body would translate to pain in the corresponding spot on the map of your foot.  Going barefoot stimulates the bottoms of your feet, which stimulates your whole body. In addition, walking barefoot outdoors puts you into direct contact with elements of nature.

-Pay attention to the light. The sun rising is nature’s way of telling us to get up and get moving. Conversely, when the sun sets, it’s time to slow down and prepare to rest and rejuvenate through sleep. It’s easy to take the rising and setting of the sun for granted—it happens every day without fail. Our primitive selves, however, are meant to gauge our activity and rest according to what the sun is doing. This is true of seasonal changes in light, as well. During the winter, when there’s less light, you’re meant to get more rest as a way to store calories that you need to stay warm.

-Bring nature inside. Plants, table top fountains, skylights, and furnishing your home with wood and stone are all ways of bringing the outdoors into your living space.

-When you travel, pay attention to the unique habitats around you. Traveling to a new place gives you the opportunity to explore the landscape, plants, and animals there that are different from where you live. While your back yard woods or local garden may become familiar and unexciting over time, exploring outdoor spaces far from home can be a great way to reconnect with the immense diversity of nature all across the planet.

-Take photographs. When you’re taking pictures, it causes you to look at nature with a different perspective. Looking for outdoor photographic opportunities can cause you to pay more attention to details, lighting, and perspective that you might not otherwise see.

-Eat according to the seasons. This is straight out of the Chinese medicine playbook. By planning your menu based on what’s ripe right now, you’re connecting with the cycles of nature and the nature of the seasons.

-Grow a garden.  Whether it’s a plot in your back yard or a couple of pots on your deck, growing your own stuff is good for your soul. Watching the plants you’ve carefully cultivated turn into herbs, vegetables, or flowers is fulfilling and links you to the natural world in a special way.

-Look at the night sky. Stargazing is the one activity that makes me feel insignificant as well as totally connected to the universe, all in the same moment. You may have to get out of town a ways to get away from the light, but finding a dark spot and looking at the Milky Way touches your very soul.

-Eat outdoors. This is one of my favorite activities. Whether I’m backpacking or eating out on my back deck, having a meal outdoors is the perfect blend of food, nature, and good company. Living in Minnesota, eating outdoors also carries with it the special meaning that it’s actually warm enough to sit outside and eat.

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