Life Well Lived: Spending time in nature can help cure

Life Well Lived: Spending time in nature can help cure
Huntley Meadows Park. (Photo/Fairfax County)

By Mara Benner

Have you recently had a telemedicine visit with your primary care doctor? If so, you may have found that healthcare is changing in more ways than how we handle a sick visit. Pulling out a prescription pad, your doctor may have encouraged a nonpharmacological approach to your illness, one that requires you to be out in nature daily. That’s right, no drug is being prescribed but instead a doctor-ordered break outside.

While our ancestors and the generations who came before us have understood this basic approach to health and wellness, it is having a resurgence in our country as the pandemic, chronic illnesses, mental health issues and stress are negatively impacting our minds, bodies and spirits.

The Children and Nature Network references more than 700 studies that indicate being out in nature is a very beneficial antidote to what is ailing you. Its importance is trending in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, too. Dr. Robert Zarr of Unity Health Care founded the Park Rx America to help lead the charge. The nonprofit organization has a mission to encourage the medical community to adopt nature treatment plans. In fact, the organization helps doctors implement how to actually prescribe nature for children and adults, along with reminders to the patients too.

Japanese forest bathing

If you are now ready to adopt the nature treatment plan, then the latest trend to consider is the Japanese shinrin-yoku, otherwise popularly known as “forest bathing.” The practice encourages hikers to remain in the present moment as he or she takes each step. The practice has become so popular that there are guides who specialize in providing the whole experience, similar to a yoga session.

Through forest bathing, one seeks to quiet the mind and to become fully present in nature. The hiker is asked to become aware of one’s breath. Then, to become aware when one’s mind turns to thoughts of things happening in the past or future rather than staying present in the great outdoors. Hikers are encouraged to return to their breathing when this happens, drawing awareness to what they are sensing around them.

If a hiker needs prompting, a few key leading questions help by exploring the five senses. For instance:

What do you see? Identify the plants, birds and nature around you. Recognize the vibrant colors.

What do you hear? Take a moment to listen to the sounds around you, becoming fully present in what you hear.

What do you feel? You might wish to find a comfortable place to sit in nature. Become aware of the sensations that you are feeling. Do you feel sun on you? Do you feel a light breeze? What else do you notice?

What do you smell? Smell is a powerful force within us and often helps to bring back old memories. Just gently close your eyes, and breathe deeply. You might catch the scent of pine trees or flowers around you.

Where to begin?

Fall is the perfect time to begin this new self-care routine. In our local area, there are many wonderful places to explore and enjoy. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Huntley Meadows Park at 3701 Lockheed Blvd. is a beautiful meadowland with wildlife living in the wetlands.

Pohick Bay Regional Park at 6501 Pohick Bay Drive in Lorton is a regional park with hiking, walking and lake activities. Check its website for availability.

Lake Accotink Park at 7500 Accotink Park Road in Springfield offers hiking and beautiful views of the lake.

Billy Goat Trail at 11710 MacArthur Blvd. in Potomac, Maryland is a wonderful hike suitable for various skill levels along the C and O Canal.

Hiking trails are endless with the many local, state and national parks and recreational centers in the area. They are only a web search away. So, get out there, focus on nature and take one step forward to better your overall wellness.

Mara Benner is the founder of Four Directions Wellness, intuitively connecting body, mind, emotions and spirit. The organization is affiliated with the GW Center for Integrative Medicine and offers individual sessions, classes and consulting. Learn more at