Centuries-old beech forest: a natural antidepressant
Health and vitality depend on direct contact with nature: it is the biophilia effect
Many computer scientists I met have revealed to me that their secret dream would be to work with the earth or doing something that makes them spend time in close contact with nature. Spending many hours indoors in front of a computer studying codes leads them to alienation. They see in rural life their chance to rebirth, the possibility of a more balanced, fulfilling, and happy existence.
Erich Fromm – a famous psychotherapist and philosopher who lived in the mid-twentieth century – called the irresistible and indispensable attraction of man towards nature “biophilia”.
Something similar also happens to astronauts in space who spend the few free moments they have during the day staring at the Earth due to the natural attraction that the Blue Planet exerts towards them. Their perception, called “The Overview Effect”, is that of staring at a ball full of life.
The “cow in the barn” effect
Japanese people were the first to use biophilia for therapeutic purposes by practicing “Shinrin-yoku” – translated as “forest bathing” or “benefiting from the atmosphere of the forest” – which greatly reduces the degree of anxiety and depression.
Masanobu Fukuoka used to say that “disease comes when people move away from nature. The severity of the disease is directly proportional to the degree of separation. If a sick person returns to a healthy environment, the disease often disappears».
We can all experience first-hand how being closed in the house or office for a long time, often in front of a computer, makes us sad and bored. On the contrary, when we are in close contact with nature, we immediately feel more active and vital. Our batteries recharge quickly and, in addition to having more energy for what we want, contact with nature strengthens our immune system with the result that we get less sick.
Despite this awareness, we often suffer from the “cow in the barn” effect. Everyone knows that grazing cows are much healthier and happier than those who spend their lives indoors. When in November the grazing cows are brought back to the barn for winter they resist because they would like to stay outdoors. After a few days, however, they get used to the heat, to be fed with energy foods and so, when spring returns and it’s time to go back to the pasture, they are not at all enthusiastic.
The healing power of nature
The same thing happens to us when we get lazy inside our home, unaware that we are lowering our vitality, our immune defences and our happiness. The sum of these factors will make us sick and so – instead of solving the problem by changing our lifestyle and taking a walk in the woods – we go to a doctor who prescribes us a drug with side effects (there is no one without them) and here we are, entered into the vicious circle of home/drugs from which it is very difficult to get out.
Luckily, there are a few enlightened doctors who have understood this only apparent obviousness and who are beginning to prescribe less drugs and more Shinrin-yoku, or baths of nature. This is the case of the doctors of the Shetland Islands who, since October 19th 2018, are authorized to issue “prescriptions of nature” to their patients for chronic and debilitating diseases. In the ten public clinics of the Scottish archipelago, doctors can therefore prescribe excursions and walks on the beach and naturalistic activities like bird watching, to help treating chronic and debilitating diseases, such as anxiety, stress, depression, diabetes and hypertension. The program is run by the UK’s National Health Service and the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds (Rspb), a nature conservation agency.
The beat of the forest: biophilia at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza
The scientific evidence and this important step by Scotland should push all doctors and health professionals to learn and include Nature in their prescriptions. National parks and green areas would no longer become places for practicing sports and naturalistic activities, but also real places of health. This is what La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza wants to promote together with the Casentinesi Forest National Park and the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism.
I could survive the disappearance of all the cathedrals in the world, I could never survive the disappearance of the woods I see every morning from my window. – Ermanno Olmi
written by Francesco Rosso