Guest Contribution from Dr. Thara Vayali
Modern day living, working, learning – it’s such a hustle. You work your buns off and end up exhausted. With the pace of information and expectation, you are likely running just to stand still. The culmination of all this bustle & collapse is commonly called stress, the impacts of which are outlined in this post on Burnout & Cortisol.
Occasionally the purpose of all this hustle can be unclear, but often you work to exhaustion for a desired end goal.
So given that most of the time you want to achieve your goals, how are you supposed to keep up? Is there a way to speed without crashing? How well can you handle your vehicle?
Regardless of driving skill, there are a few options:
Option 1: Decrease stress load – “Well, that’s unlikely.”
Option 2: Increase resilience – “Sure, but that takes a long time.”
Option 3: Balance the hustle with a saunter – “That sounds attainable, practical and lovely.”
To saunter: walk in a slow, relaxed manner, without hurry or effort
It seems counter-intuitive to efficiency but stick with it & you may see the benefit. Peppering the hustle with a saunter is like pressing ‘pause’ on the day; A chance to let the mind and body catch up with your pace. Pausing helps the brain to regroup so that your forward momentum is highly functional.
The hardest part of this task is stepping outside yourself to pull back the reins and say “Whoa Nellie! Time for a saunter”. There is a fear within many that says, “Even when unproductive, I should be able to stay on task until it’s done”. Not true, my friend. Work smarter, not harder.
Let’s break it down:
- Brief hourly mental breaks to detach from the task at hand can improve productivity, cognitive function and focus.
- A 15 minute walk after every few hours of sitting can lower cardiovascular risks, improve metabolism and manage blood sugar levels. If the walking pace is rapid or focused on a stressful situation, the above parameters may still improve but cortisol levels rise.
- The colloquial “Power Nap” – A 20 minute detachment from looming thoughts & demands, with no physical exertion (ie; napping) improves memory, creativity, productivity, lowers cortisol, and lowers physiological stress response.
This is all fantastic news and supports bringing Recess & Nap Time back into the typical adult day.
To be slightly more realistic, let’s combine these features into a relaxing walk – a saunter. At least once a day for 15-20 minutes, temporarily pause external pressure, ensure that physical exertion is minimal and sensory awareness is present; this is a dry and technical description of a saunter. When we stroll in this way, physiological responses improve, cognitive function increases and stress signals decrease.
I’d like to encourage us taking this one step further. I suggest it’s time that we Reclaim the Forest Saunter.
The Japanese concept & phrase Shinrin-yoku loosely translates as “Forest-bathing”. Under multiple evaluations of this concept, parameters of stress response (heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and subjective sense of calm) reduce when taking time to saunter in wooded areas, as compared to city environments.
When stress signaling decreases, physical & emotional resiliency has the opportunity to strengthen.
There is a sensory soothing effect that occurs with Shinrin-yoku. Outside of wooded environments the same effects of stress reduction have been observed when isolated to each sense.
Smell – Smell has the greatest impact of all senses on memory, emotion and physiological change in stress. Volatile oils inhaled from trees such as cypress, cedar & pine increase the nervous system’s parasympathetic (soothe) response.
Sight – Viewing of nature videos assists in immediate stress recovery. Spending time in architectural spaces that include features of water, wood and plants positively shifts stress physiology.
Touch – Touching untreated wooden planks creates fewer blood pressure spikes when compared to touching metal or heavily painted wood.
There are living elements in the forest that our bodies are soothed by. We may even have a craving for it – also referred to, by E.O. Wilson, as biophilia.
Forest based or not, when we find non destructive self-soothing methods, we can get back to the task at hand with vim & vigour. Our focus switches from the managing pressure or apathy to a taking action with a sense of rational optimism. We switch from overwhelmed to motivated.
So next time you feel swamped by it all, smell a handful of cedar needles, lean on an exposed wood beam and make sure you can see some conifers. Alternatively, go to the forest.
Balance out the hustle. Reclaim the saunter. Take a forest bath.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.