By Shawndra Miller / Communications manager, Central Indiana Land Trust
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the perfect time to celebrate the power of nature to boost mood and mental acuity. It’s no secret that nature – and forests in particular – can heal us. Physicians and mental health professionals the world over recognize this, and many have begun to prescribe nature walks to their patients.
Elisabeth Henn-Carlsen, an Indianapolis counselor with over 25 years of experience, nearly always suggests that her clients get outdoors for some portion of each day. “I don’t believe therapy is a panacea,” she said. “Sometimes what people need is to walk in the forest more.”
A great deal of research points to the benefit of long doses of outdoor time, according to Christy Thomson, a certified forest therapy guide. “But it doesn’t need to take that long: In just a few mindful hours, people can feel the same kind of therapeutic benefit as they’d get from a long weekend getaway.” Forest bathing, as it’s known in Japan, “gets you out of your head in a quick way,” Thomson said.
Last year Tony Armstrong, who lives by one of our most beloved nature preserves, found this out first-hand in Meltzer Woods Nature Preserve. This publicly accessible nature preserve near Shelbyville is an old-growth forest just a half hour drive from Downtown Indianapolis.
What started as a simple goal –follow his doctor’s advice to get regular exercise – turned into something much more for Armstrong. Last August, the 65-year-old son-in-law of the late Philip Meltzer (who worked with the Land Trust to turn the forest into a nature preserve) started walking the trail of Meltzer Woods daily. His project earned unexpected dividends.
“In the beginning I walked mainly for the exercise,” he said, “but what’s happened over time is it’s become meditational. I actually walk more for meditation than exercise now.”
He goes out early in the morning, sometimes at the crack of dawn when he can see the sun come up through the trees. He’s seen pileated woodpeckers, a luna moth, deer, groundhogs, raccoons, and once, a wood duck with her ducklings. He has encountered people of all ages exploring the woods, some from three counties away.
He walked through snow and rain, no matter what,” he said. “Every day for a year, and then some. In the woods you can get a lot of good ideas.
“I run a farm and other things, and I need time to think and plan,” Armstrong continued. “And we all have some kind of problem now and then, and we all need to think things through and make good decisions.”
He loves the woods for its pure oxygen, lack of distractions and the huge old trees. “Walking and meditating in the woods seems to bring me peace,” he said. “I don’t really see stopping.”
To plan your visit to Meltzer Woods or any of our other publicly accessible preserves, visit our website at conservingindiana.org.
Headquartered on the Old Northside, Central Indiana Land Trust stewards nature preserves throughout the central third of the state. The Land Trust strives to make its preserves welcoming to all. More information: conservingindiana.org.
PHOTO ABOVE: Tony Armstrong at the entrance to Metzger Woods.