Date of the last update: 18.07.2023
For reflecting on nature and looking at it is like some kind of natural food for our souls and our minds.Cicero
There is only one healing power and that is natureSchopenhauer
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Very promising preventive and therapeutic prospects are associated today with two new branches of medicine, little known yet, although firmly rooted in both tradition and science. These are forest and integrated medicine. The fundamental assumptions and research directions of these fields are presented by Clemens Arvay (2016) and Richard Louv (2016).
The first of them, a biologist, presented scientific evidence for the wonderful properties and activities of greenery. The stay of sick people in the forest strengthens the immune system in a way that can be proven, the atmosphere of greenery and forest reduces the level of stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline, while it activates the vagus nerve responsible for human peace and regeneration. Hiking in the woods lowers blood pressure and calms the heart rate.
Forest therapy helps in fighting type 2 diabetes. According to research, forested areas are places on Earth where people are less likely to fall ill and die of cancer than in unforested areas. Arvay (2016) also provides further examples of the healing effect of forests, as well as gardens (hortitherapy) and other green areas. He also recalls the famous, though not fully appreciated, research by Roger Ulrich published in 1984 in the journal Science. Ulrich proved that just looking through a hospital window at green surfaces and landscapes accelerates the healing of a patient after surgery. He compared the recovery of patients with a view of trees and those who saw only the walls of houses through their windows (see Arvay, 2016, pp. 123-126).
Louv (2016), on the other hand, writes about nature deficit syndrome, which is not a medical diagnosis, although perhaps it should be. As part of integrated medicine, patients are recommended to contact nature, i.e. vitamin N. It is vitamin N that may prove to be the most effective health-promoting factor. Pointing to the biophilia effect, Andreas Danzer said: “We have roots, and they will categorically not grow in concrete.” (quoted after Arvay, 2016, p. 19). This thought perfectly shows the fundamental truth about man as a species for which forest and integrated medicine is the right direction in the pursuit of health and full self-realization.
The broadly understood integrated therapy includes: ecotherapy, developing natural interests as a form of psychocorrection, shaping a healthy lifestyle and a strong sense of coherence, psychosomatic and psychoimmunological interactions using awareness of the mind-body relationship, gelotology – laughter therapy, counseling and psychological support, and acquiring social competences enabling the shaping of positive interpersonal interactions.
Integrated therapy includes a wide and comprehensive impact on man as a biopsychosocial being, and in particular is focused on the integration of a human being with nature. Therefore, eco-therapy has an important place. Ecotherapy is understood as the therapeutic impact of the natural environment. Four aspects of ecotherapy can be identified. The first of them is the organic aspect – providing our body with food and medicine by nature. Thus, it will be the so-called ecological nutrition, phytotherapy – the healing effect of herbs, especially herbal plants and undergrowth fruits, and mycotherapy – the health-promoting effect of mushrooms. The second is the relaxing and energizing aspect. Contact with nature has a de-stressing and relaxing effect, and at the same time provides energy and activates. Of particular importance is the impact of the perception of natural greenery and the beneficial ionization of the air for the human brain (predominance of negative ions) in green areas, especially in forests. Physical activity in the bosom of nature (e.g. mushroom picking) is a great relaxation and oxygenation of the brain. The third aspect is associated with aesthetic experiences in contact with nature, and the aesthetic experience is eustress, i.e. positive stress, it has a mobilizing effect and develops spiritually. It is worth quoting the German philosopher and aesthetician Gernot Bӧhme (2002) who writes:
The task of the ecological aesthetics of nature would be to remind you that a healthy, not to say a good life, requires experiencing the environment with certain aesthetic qualities. It would have to show that human well-being is co-determined by the sensory-emotional qualities of the environment. Finally, it would have to remind again and again that the basic foundations of human life include not only the general need for a beautiful environment, but also the need for nature: something that exists by itself and that moves people by its independent existence. Man has a deep need for something other than himself. He does not want to live in a world where he meets only himself” (ibid., p. 78).
And finally, the fourth aspect is an intellectual experience related to learning about nature. The fascination with the logic and harmony inherent in nature satisfies the need for order and comprehensibility of the world in man and gives him the feeling of being an integral part of this world.
Both in scientific research, especially medical research, as well as in a broader reflection on the human condition, one of the leading questions was: why do people get sick? An impressive amount of knowledge about the etiology of diseases has been created. Aaron Antonovsky (2005), however, formulated another question: why are people healthy? The observations made by him, as well as by other researchers, turned out to be intriguing and somewhat surprising. In particular, this concerned people who survived the concentration camp, sometimes spending several years there. Not only did they survive unimaginably difficult living conditions, but later they lived long, healthy lives. Why were they healthy? Can you point to something in common that characterized them?
The conditions and mechanisms of achieving health are explained by Antonovsky’s model of salutogenesis. This model has become a breakthrough in health science. The central concept of the salutogenetic concept is the sense of coherence, which consists of three interrelated components:
- Understandability – human perception of incoming information as orderly, structured, clear and coherent; thanks to which he has the feeling that he can comprehend, evaluate, understand and anticipate them.
- Resourcefulness – the extent to which the available resources are perceived by humans as sufficient to meet the requirements of the environment.
- Meaningfulness – the degree to which a person feels that life makes sense, that at least some of the demands that life brings are worth the effort, dedication and commitment.
The results of many studies indicate that the sense of coherence has a positive effect on health and coping with stress (Antonovsky, 2005; Woynarowska, 2008). Ecotherapy fits perfectly into the model of salutogenesis, strengthening the level of coherence in all components. A sense of connection with the natural environment is very important for feeling the meaning of life. The proximity of areas characterized by naturalness, the possibility of communing with nature, the biological and climatic effects of forests, the presence of water, clean atmospheric air, and landscape composition turn out to be important (Kopczyński, Skoczylas, 2008). Understanding the laws of nature may also be therapeutic, which strengthens the first component of the sense of coherence.
Check out also: Nature as a healer
In the model of integrated therapy, great importance is attached to the magic key word: fascination. It is known that fascination regenerates our mental strength, reduces stress, reduces the feeling of pain, has an anti-cancer effect on the psyche. Therefore, developing natural interests and fascination with the beauty of nature and biodiversity has a great therapeutic value. Integrated therapy is in fact more than therapy, it is a light in the tunnel in which modern man has found himself as a result of the development of civilization. It is a way out of an emotional and existential crisis.
- Antonovsky A., 2005, Rozwikłanie tajemnicy zdrowia, Instytut Psychiatrii i Neurologii, Warszawa.
- Arvay C., 2016, Uzdrawiająca moc lasu, Wydawnictwo Vital, Białystok.
- Bӧhme G., 2002, Filozofia i estetyka przyrody, Oficyna Naukowa, Warszawa.
- Kopczyński K., Skoczylas J., 2008, Krajobraz przyrodniczy i kulturowy. Próba ujęcia interdyscyplinarnego, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu, Poznań.
- R., 2016, Witamina N, Grupa Wydawnicza Relacja, Warszawa
- Woynarowska B., 2008, Edukacja zdrowotna, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa.