At a recent neighborhood party, I was talking with a gentleman in his 90’s. He was telling me about how he and his children (around my age) always saw me working in the yard and gardens. Even as a child, you could find me hanging in a tree, making mud pies decorated with sticks, rocks & crystals in my backyard “bakery”. And if I wasn’t filling potholes in the dirt road I lived on, I was jumping in the mud puddles when it rained. Now as an adult who purchased my family home, still my favorite thing to do is dig in the dirt.
“Love the Earth as you would love yourself.” – John Denver
A week after our conversation, he left a pamphlet in the mailbox with a note “Karen – You were always right!” followed by a smiley face. The title of the article Path to Well-Being. It said, “Did you know that the pulling, digging, reaching, twisting, and bending of gardening amounts to light aerobic exercise, which improves heart and lung health, helps prevent obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, and more? Scientists have discovered that the mycobacterium found in soil can improve brain functions while boosting moods. The mycobacterium vaccae found in the soil increases serotonin produced in the brain (also known as the ‘happy’ chemical). By getting your hands dirty, you’re also making your brain happy! The sights, smells, and sounds of the garden are said to promote relaxation and reduce stress. The food grown is the freshest food you can eat. They are a treat for us all!” Now, all those same things above can be said about yoga as well, but I digress. Playing in the dirt, whether in your gardens, romping in a playground or mud puddle, or hiking in the woods, is good for you!
Stefano Mancuso, Italian neurobiologist and Director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology (LINV) in Florence, Italy is investigating the mysterious and largely unknown world of plants along with German Forest Ranger Peter Wohlleben who published a best-selling book titled “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World,” claiming that trees are highly social creatures.
He says, “trees can count, learn, and remember.” They nurse sick members, warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network (known as the Wood Wide Web) and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots. Rather than competition, there’s a lot of cooperation.
On her Ted Talk, Ecologist Suzanne Simard says she researches “below-ground fungal networks that connect trees and facilitate underground inter-tree communication and interaction.” Biologist George David Haskell says that the connection in a network necessitates communication and breeds languages; understanding that nature is the first step in hearing trees talk. Think about how we speak: whispering pines, falling branches, crackling leaves, the steady hum buzzing through the forest. Wohlleben wants us to acknowledge the essential role trees play, not just in producing oxygen and timber, but in cultural Consciousness.
Underneath the earth are vast networks of roots working with fungi to move water, carbon, and nutrients among trees of all species. These networks mimic human neural and social networks. They even have mother trees!
Professor Simard discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits. Resources tend to flow from the oldest and biggest trees to the youngest and smallest. Chemical alarm signals generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger. Seedlings severed from the forest’s underground lifelines are much more likely to die than their networked counterparts. And if a tree is on the brink of death, it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors.
Some scientists have advocated, sometimes controversially, for a greater focus on cooperation over self-interest and on the emergent properties of living systems rather than their individual units.
According to “Do Trees Talk to Each Other?” from the Smithsonian magazine, there is conflict in a forest, but there is also negotiation, reciprocity and perhaps even selflessness. The trees, understory plants, fungi and microbes in a forest are so thoroughly connected, communicative and codependent that some scientists have described them as superorganisms. Recent research suggests that mycorrhizal networks also perfuse prairies, grasslands, chaparral and Arctic tundra — essentially everywhere there is life on land. Together, these symbiotic partners knit Earth’s soils into nearly contiguous living networks of unfathomable scale and complexity.
Regenerating the soil has numerous beneficial effects on the planet. Our soil teams with a multitude of organisms which provide the necessary work for healthy plants to grow free from disease, pests, and infertility. The soil foodweb consists of birds, animals, plants (roots & shoots), arthropods (predators & shredders), nematodes (root, bacterial & fungal feeders), fungi, protozoa, bacteria, and organic matter. These interconnected interactions and feeding relationships (“who eats who”) help determine the types of nutrients present in soil, its depth, and pH, and even the types of plants which can grow. Did you know mushrooms can heal? There is mycelia magic beneath our feet. A wi-fi network of roots. Whether you’re just beginning to explore the subterranean network or diving deeper, you’ll be inspired by nature in these two Netflix Movies: Fantastic Fungi (2019) & Kiss the Ground (2020).
Earth can cover our needs but not our greed.
In her newest book, Returning to Nature, Emma Loewe shares the wisdom of how natural landscapes restore us and that our health depends on it. Most people spend around 90% of their day indoors. She uncovers:
Why being by the ocean makes you measurably happier.
How living near greenery helps you live longer.
The staggering, illuminating statistic that forests can make you more relaxed within 90 seconds of walking among trees.
Our bodies are starved from sun and imbalanced circadian rhythms with all the electronics and negative EMFs blocking our own biorhythm. Overexposure to blue light and harmful frequencies breaks down our DNA and cellular function. Our bodies want to feel the frequency of the Earth. Loewe believes it is important to nourish yourself and connect to the rhythms of the Earth through science-based rituals including:
Honor the quiet of Winter and the start of the year by setting new intentions with a seed planting ritual.
Come Spring, try a breathwork ritual to release blocks and move forward.
Celebrate Summer with a forest bathing ritual to clear your mind or a crystal ritual for an open, receptive heart.
Wind down in Fall with a self-soothing full moon ceremony to reflect on the year.
Earthing or Forest Bathing
You get vitamin D from the Sun above. The Earth gives you Vitamin G – Ground – from below. Sadly, much of our soil has been stripped of minerals and nutrients. Our food, water, and air full of heavy metal and toxins. Yet, Mother Earth beneath your feet provides you so much abundance! She is the most loving Mother of all Mothers, and when your bare feet or body touches her, she provides you with electrons. This electric charge dissipates static and synchronizes with the Earth frequency (the Schumann Resonance) which is “grounding”. When your body is in direct contact with the Earth, it restores the connection between the body and the electrical currents of the Earth.
There are many ways to reconnect with the earth and restore your body’s natural defense system. I outlined a few in my October 2021 Musings. Here are some more:
Take a walk, preferably bare footed, on grass, sand, or mud.
Swap out your rubber or synthetic shoes for leather soled shoes.
Play in the dirt.
Grounding mats if you can’t go outside.
Free Radical Theory
20 plus years of research shows a promising connection between earthing and measurable improvements in health issues. Free radical theory is thought to damage DNA and mitochondria as well as compromises the functioning of enzymes resulting in age-related free radical damage. The latest research also shows that free radicals (aka hazardous voltages) have a direct link to the cause of inflammation. The NIH article states that “During recent decades, chronic illness, immune disorders, and inflammatory diseases have increased dramatically, and some researchers have cited environmental factors as the cause. However, the possibility of modern disconnection with the Earth's surface as a cause has not been considered. Much of the research reviewed in this paper points in that direction.” In other words, the more technologically advanced we become, the further away from nature we go.
According to the Earthing Institute, “consider the effect of grounding on chronic inflammation, a prime agent of chronic and aging-related disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and even depression and autism. Earthing pulls out inflammation and quickly reduces inflammation-related pain!” In other words, the “bad” free radicals are drawn away from the inflammation toward the earth where they are neutralized.
A friend sent me a link to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation which shared the benefits of being in a natural setting (below). It goes as far as to say: “Think of it as a prescription with no negative side effects that’s also free.”
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” - John Muir
Health Benefits from Forests
Exposure to forests and trees:
boosts the immune system
lowers blood pressure
increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
increases energy level
improves chronic fatigue and sleep disorders
may boost immunity
may improve heart health
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
~ Albert Einstein
Forests Make Us Healthier
Numerous studies in the U.S. and around the world are exploring the health benefits of spending time outside in nature, green spaces, and, specifically, forests. Recognizing those benefits, in 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries even coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or "forest bathing," and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health.
Research is casting light on how spending time outdoors and in forests makes us healthier:
Exposure to forests boosts our immune system.
While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. Spending time around trees, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that exercising in forests reduces blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
Spending time around trees and looking at trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic, effect. Studies examining the same activities in urban, unplanted areas showed no reduction of stress-related effects. Using the Profile of Mood States test, researchers found that forest bathing trips significantly decreased the scores for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue. And because stress inhibits the immune system, the stress-reduction benefits of forests are further magnified.
Green spaces in urban areas are just as important as rural forests. About 85% of the US population lives in suburban and urban areas and may not have access to traditional rural forests. That's O.K. Gardens, parks and street trees make up what is called an urban and community forest. These pockets of greenspace are vitally important because they are the sources of our daily access to trees.
Spending time in nature helps you focus. Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, and family life. Trying to focus on many activities or even a single thing for long periods of time can mentally drain us, a phenomenon called Directed Attention Fatigue. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.
In children, attention fatigue causes an inability to pay attention and control impulses. The part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (right prefrontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue and children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. Researchers are investigating the use of natural outdoor environments to supplement current approaches to managing ADHD. Such an approach has the advantages of being widely accessible, inexpensive and free of side effects.
Patients recover from surgery faster and better when they have a "green" view. Hospital patients may be stressed from a variety of factors, including pain, fear, and disruption of normal routine. Research found that patients with "green" views had shorter postoperative stays, took fewer painkillers, and had slightly fewer postsurgical complications compared to those who had no view or a view of a cement wall.
The soil-ution for most common modern disease, is right beneath your feet! So, take your first step and get down and dirty.