Forest Therapy (Da Capo Press, 2018) by Sarah Ivens, PhD, is a year-round guide to embracing nature and personal wellness. It pulls from the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and the Scandinavian practice of friluftsliv (open-air life) to promote mindfulness of natural surroundings. Ivens has authored eight lifestyle and wellness books; she is a journalist and a certified life coach, living in Texas with her family. The following excerpt provides tips for ushering in fall and using it as a time for mindfulness and preparedness for winter.
Fall in Love
Autumn is the season when the world mellows out and takes stock on what has already been achieved. Change occurs, but at a reassuringly slow drift rather than a hurried panic. Planet Earth takes on a warm glow as the sun shrinks back into the soil. Golden moments with friends, family and self shape the months leading up to the festive season. The nights stretch out once more, lit by bonfires and fireworks, log fires and sparklers. There are rustling leaves and crunchy pathways, hot cider and warm donuts, spicy lattes and candy corn, hay stacks and football. Keats famously described autumn as the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and our routines reflect Mother Nature’s chilled-out, contented vibe too.
Ode to autumn
Autumn is owed great respect for being awesomely good for us in a number of ways. Here are seven reasons to make the most of this season:
- When the clocks go back and mornings become darker and cooler, we’re naturally more likely to get some extra shut-eye. Autumn offers the perfect antidote to the restlessness of summer sleep, as the lack of light and a drop in temperature makes it better quality (research says the ideal temp for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit). No sweaty tangling in the bed sheets or annoying whirr of the air-conditioning unit. And good sleep makes everyone feel invincible.
- Seasonal superfoods are abundant, nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare: stews, soups and casseroles warm and satisfy every day, filled to brimming with reasonably priced squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and all manner of seasonal root vegetables. Beta-carotene, the fab food compound found with no effort in autumn, helps to prevent certain cancers, heart disease and high blood pressure. An 8-ounce portion of pumpkin offers a crazy amount of vitamin A — 200 percent of your daily recommendation — and a hearty wallop of vitamin E, which provides crucial goodness for healthy skin, teeth and vision. Also, roast up some parsnips for a feast of immune-boosting vitamin C.
- You can celebrate those back-to-school vibes and get down with some books and learning. Geek has never felt so chic. The autumn is the perfect time to start a new hobby or habit, such as joining a book club, starting to learn a new language or taking an evening class in local history. And this is the perfect season to take these habits outside, without the fear of being bitten or burnt.
- Brisk autumn weather doesn’t just feel good on your skin and in your lungs, a study shows that cold and crisp weather benefits your mind too. Researchers split a group into two and gave them both a memorization test, half on a sunny, warm day typical of summer, the other on a cooler, cloudy day typical of autumn — and the cooler group had much better luck at remembering things.
- This is the perfect season to set new outdoor goals that you can keep, or to revisit old ones that have been lost over the previous few months. The decadence of summer and its overindulgences — late nights, sleeping in and travel, not to mention eating and drinking too much — are over, and a new air of restoration and good sense abounds. Take another look at your goals from spring, check in on them and your mental and physical well-being, and get back into a rhythm. Commit to the weekly forest walk, nurturing your windowsill herb garden or morning meditations.
- You’ll start wanting hot drinks again after a summer off. Green and black teas are steeped in antioxidants that help to keep flu at bay during the cooler months, so sip away.
- The mane event will be your crowning glory. The humidity of summer has subsided and the too-dry indoor temperatures of winter are in the future, so your hair is looking and feeling good when you’re out and about.
Turn over a new leaf
The ethereal blanketing of the earth with leaves every autumn is nothing short of soul lifting. The amber richness of the shed leaves softens the world and slows our pace. Experiencing such beauty doesn’t just feel lovely, it’s lovely for our brain, too. Walking among the plum tones and orange shades, and engaging with the season’s changing prettiness, activates the brain’s medial orbitofrontal cortex, which helps with sharp thinking and deep relaxation. The colors red and yellow are recognized as stimulating shades, giving your eyes — and then your whole being — a boost, so expect even a quick lunchtime dash through the park to pick up your mood.
The contrast that occurs in early autumn — green against red, yellow versus brown — grabs our attention and excites our brain, making a bright, engaging change from the solid greens of a spring and summer forest. It gives us a unique visual stimulus. We forget our daily worries and fears, overwhelmed by the beauty of nature — even if just for the duration of a walk or a relaxation session outside. The trees and their daily change also give us a good chance to practice mindfulness. How many leaves have dropped since I was last here? What color strikes me the most? When we encounter the largesse of life like this, we are humbled into forgetting our self-centered worriers and look outward to appreciate the world.
Excerpted from Forest Therapy: Seasonal Ways to Embrace Nature for a Happier You by Sarah Ivens. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.