Garden Therapy

This is an excerpt from an article of mine published in El Papellillo/The Leaflet, the Vallarta Botanical Garden’s free online monthly newsletter. 

“Exposure to a natural environment such as a botanical garden is not just a pleasant experience by refreshing the spirit and pleasing the senses; it has a proven healing effect on the mind and body. Besides the benefit of exercise, doctors point out the longer-term effect of walking in a forest or jungle environment – also named ‘forest bathing:’

– reduces stress and obesity
– improves cardiovascular function
– reduces high blood pressure
– accelerates recovery from illness
– diminishes risk of diabetes
– helps in pain management
– improves sleep
– increases energy levels
– boosts the immune system 
– improves brain function 
– and more.” 

What an irresistible list! Sign me up… 

“When his brother pointed out that spending time in a garden environment helped significantly reduce his headache episodes, Doctor Mohab Ibrahim, Program Director, Pain Medicine Fellowship, Director, Chronic Pain Management Clinic, and Associate Professor, Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona, conducted experiments on the effect of the green light spectrum. In a recent interview, Doctor Ibrahim revealed that these results in pain reduction proved so encouraging that a piece of prototype equipment is slated for commercial application.” (Author’s note: if Doctor Ibrahim’s research and testing haven’t already succeeded in doing so).

Don’t want to invest in a therapy lighting device? Can’t determine which shade of green on the spectrum is the most beneficial? Surround yourself with your own green space – it doesn’t have to be a forest or a jungle. I haven’t checked with Doctor Ibrahim, but I’m pretty certain that one of the green light wavelengths is the beneficial one that helped his brother and that Doctor Ibrahim’s invention emits. 

Being in a green environment can be as simple as the balcony of your apartment or a corner of the living room with an array of green plants. (This suggestion is meant for the daytime. I remember walking into a hospital corridor after visiting hours and seeing all the plant and flower arrangements being taken out of patients’ rooms. It was explained to me that plants emit carbon dioxide at night when there is no light, and of course, patients need to breathe in healthier, more oxygenated air.)

One way to distract the migrainous brain from its toxic drip, drip, drip of defeatist thought is to turn it to other experiences. As a species, we are meant to walk more in a natural green environment than at the foot of canyons of city skyscrapers. 

It is animals’, including human animals’, nature to be curious. Aside from walking and breathing in the heavily oxygenated forest air, the occasional movement of birds, insects, or animals can capture the intellect. For a brief instant, your eyes are focused on a bird flying close to you. It becomes more interesting as the various birds demonstrate different flight patterns. My big dog Soko and I were stopped in our tracks when what appeared to be a drunken chicken demonstrated a flight path among the trees as if on a roller coaster. It was a first sighting for both of us of the largest of the woodpecker species: the pileated woodpecker.

Consider practising silent meditation during your forest bathing session. Find a log or a stone, and meditate. Conduct your breathing exercises in that space of time – both those practices will be enhanced in a forest or green environment. (Multitasking therapies!)

To some, walking in a natural setting is a revelation. A friend in his retirement years is discovering birdwatching for the first time in his life. He will now wrap his considerable intellect around a change in movement, a difference in color, a remarkable song, the proximity of the sound of flapping wings close to him. It is a pleasant distraction.

North American native wisdom encourages the practice of a form of therapy where the person who has suffered abuse is encouraged to stand as closely as possible to a tree, wrap their arms around the broad trunk, and hug the tree for a time. The belief is that the life force of the tree will absorb the toxicity of the abuse. There is a sort of a very mild vibration or light hum emanating from the tree – perhaps the sap flowing if you’re that close? The feeling is quite pleasant and it does have a soothing effect.

Kudos to the person who first came up with that idea.


  • Carla Piringer

    Related to noted medical professionals, the author was afflicted with an inherited excruciating migraine condition, followed traditional medical and alternative therapies and has lived migraine-free for over 35 years. She shares her doctor-recommended method in her book, hoping to inspire sufferers to find significant pain relief.

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