Cleveland Park is blessed to have Rock Creek National Park trailheads at our doorstep.Rock Creek, over 2,000 acres of land, was the second National Park designated in 1890 by an Act of Congress and President Benjamin Harrison to be “perpetually dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure ground for the enjoyment of the people of the United States.” President Teddy Roosevelt and his family spent time regularly in the park picnicking and hiking.
As city dwellers with stressful jobs, this step off Connecticut Ave is like going through a portal entering a magical forest filled with vitality, particularly for those who practices shinrin yoku, Japanese for “Forest Bath”. The art of Forest Bathing offers many health benefits.
Scientific research shows that spending regular time hiking in the natural world in open awareness and complete immersion is not only good for the physical body by making your heart, lungs, legs and glutes stronger. It additionally improves your balance and more easily enhances Flow State. Flow state is a relaxed mental state where a person is completely focused on a task or activity. In this state, time passes unnoticed, the mind is free from judgement and there’s a feeling of effortlessness. This state is similar to mindfulness or meditation with the exception that it is activity-based focus and awareness – a key to brain health.
To maintain brain health, we must use our entire brain - cells and connections between cells - on a regular basis. One of the best ways to do this is a nature hike. Movingthrough woods, we see interesting wildflowers and ferns, or snip off a bit of wild mint to refresh our taste buds. We hear sounds like bird songs and bubbling creeks, we smell the musty forest floor or blooming mountain Laurels and touch rough tree trunks or crystal rocks. As we tune into our five senses, we are Forest Bathing, performing a walking meditation while stimulating all brain regions.
Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a DC-based naturalist, author, and certified nature and forest guide states in her book, The Joy of Forest Bathing: “some of the benefits are lowering blood pressure, pulse rate, cortisol levels, improved mood, and increase in natural “killer cells” enhancing your immunity by fighting off viruses.”
This summer join a group or grab a friend and “get outside,” as REI suggests, and explore the park while you exercise! My hiking club, Lucinda’s Tribe Trekkers, meets bi-weekly for hikes in the park (http://www.lucindalaree.com/ for details). There are many other meetups and ways to exercise and explore in the park - cycling, rolling blading, horseback riding, trail running, bird watching and nature walks.
“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it means protection.”
--Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States