Hedge Apple Woods, Bloomington, by Rick Tindall
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In this time of social distancing and limited activities, enjoying nature should be made a priority for all who need a bit of stress release. Have you bathed in the forest lately, hugged a tree or had a therapy session with an oak?

Forest bathing is Japanese practice of immersing yourself in the forest air. For University of Illinois Master Naturalists, we call it hiking the woods and prairies of Central Illinois, a hobby these volunteers cannot do without. After connecting with the forest, most feel happier and have forgotten about the stresses of this modern world. The Master Naturalist volunteers feel a greater desire to preserve nature for the future generations. Master Naturalists Vickie Robertson says “Now’s the time to get outside and walk some of our local trails and pathways and enjoy nature. Check out the living things below, above and all around you.”

The idea of hugging a tree may seem a ridiculous notion, but it works.  Let’s face it, outside of your immediate contacts, hugging and touching is now an unaccepted practice. However, trees are willing participants. University of Illinois researchers have found that students who spend a short time in nature before taking a test, feel less anxiety and perform better on the test. Students who can spend some time outdoors in nature also exhibit less anger and fewer behavior problems in the classroom. These research projects have discovered mental health benefits of just being in nature. Imagine the anxiety relief you would get from hugging a tree.

Sometimes just verbalizing your problems can have great benefits toward your well-being. Imagine a therapist that is strong, a good listener, free and gives you life sustaining oxygen.  The trees may not give you advice, but they sure can put everything in perspective.

Help the Master Naturalist celebrate National Trails Day while getting yourself back on track in this chaotic time. Each year people across the country unite on the first Saturday of June in celebration of the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day.  Although we won’t be gathering in person this year, members of the University of Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalists group will still preserve and promote trails and fight for access to quality green spaces.  Master Naturalists invite you to bath in nature, hug a tree, and get a free therapy session on some of our local trails as listed below:

To show your support, commit to the American Hiking Society’s #NationalTrailsDay Pledge, taking at least one action in 2020 to preserve trails and fight for equitable access to quality green space.

For more information about the Illinois Grand Prairie chapter of the Master Naturalist program please visit them on Facebook, and share your pictures.

Photo credit: Rick Tindall, Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalists, from Hedge Apple Woods, Bloomington, IL