Month: August 2020

Plants are the New Healing Crystals

Plants as Healing Crystals

Plants as Healing Crystals

Throughout history, crystals have been used to promote health and well being, so it’s no wonder that their popularity is on the rise. Plants feature in ancient medicine in much the same way, used to convey energy, vitality, relaxation, and other healthful qualities. In fact, just as you might choose between turquoise, jasper, and rose quartz based on their specific properties, you can select one or more of the plants below to bring you the benefits you seek.

Relaxation:  Lavender and Jasmine

Amethysts are a favorite of crystal enthusiasts, as much for their renown in relieving anxiety and dispersing negative thoughts as for their radiant violet color. A plant with fragrant flowers the same deep purple color, lavender shares amethyst’s healing properties. Studies show that inhaling the scent of lavender actually decreases heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Scenting your bedroom with lavender can help you relax and sleep more deeply, too.

Another popular flowering plant known for its ability to relax and rejuvenate is jasmine, a highlight of many aromatherapy regimens. So beneficial that its name means “Gift from God,” jasmine is a potent stress-fighter that reduces inflammation and helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

Good Health and Vitality: Sunflowers and Peace Lilies

Sunflowers don’t just look cheery – these brightly colored members of the aster family have been under cultivation for more than 5,000 years for their nutrient-packed seeds which can be ground into flour and pressed to produce a rich, skin-healing oil.

An indoor plant with similar benefits is the peace lily, considered so effective at improving air quality that it’s been certified by NASA for its ability to cleanse the air of toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide. A tropical plant most commonly grown indoors, peace lilies are not only good for your health, they’re easy to care for, requiring only indirect or filtered light to thrive.

Energy and Vitality: Echinacea 

Among the many crystals with healing properties, quartz reigns supreme, promoting energy and well-being, and amplifying the benefits of other crystals. Like quartz, echinacea is a powerful health-promoter that tops most lists of important medicinal plants. A daisy-like perennial also known as coneflower, echinacea is an immune-booster found in many herbal remedies for cold and flu prevention.

Better Sleep: Gardenia 

Gardenias are more than elegant corsages, they’re also nature’s sleeping pills. Thanks to the presence of certain phytochemicals, they have much the same ability to induce slumber as many prescription sleep aids.  In fact, the waxy white flowers are being studied as a relaxant to treat sleep disorders. Notoriously finicky about watering and drainage, gardenias will thank you for installing a B-hyve smart hose watering timer to protect their roots from rot.

Mental Clarity: Mint and Rosemary

There’s a reason a sprig of mint tastes so refreshing in a drink on a hot summer’s day. Menthol, the primary component in mint’s distinctive flavor, stimulates the area of the brain that controls memory and clarity.  One member of the mint family, peppermint, has been found in studies to boost alertness and decrease frustration levels while learning.

When adding mint to your kitchen garden, why not put in some rosemary, too? In addition to being a popular ingredient in sauces, soups, and stews, rosemary has been found to increase concentration and sharpen memory. According to one study, smelling rosemary before a cognitive test increased memory capacity by 75 percent. Maybe Shakespeare was onto something when he wrote the line “there’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

Introduce some of these fragrant and beneficial plants to your home environment, and you just might find your mind and body becoming as healthy as your garden ecosystem.

8 Tips for Better Entertaining Outdoors

Entertaining Outdoors

Entertaining Outdoors

These days, most of us are living life outdoors as much as we possibly can. And when it comes to entertaining, it’s all about making your yard and garden into comfortable places where you enjoy time with family and friends. Here is a wealth of ways to make outdoor socializing fun, festive, and safe.

Get Creative with Lighting

There’s nothing like fairy lights to turn the most ordinary backyard into a magical landscape. Drape trees, fences, and gazebos in strings of colored lights hang decorative solar globe lights from trees, and line paths with glowing torches. For an extra fun touch, put remote-controlled flameless candles inside decorative metal lanterns, then “light” them all at once with the press of a button.

Think Outdoor Rooms

Turn your deck or patio into a den with couches, armchairs, and outdoor rugs and you might find no one ever wants to come inside. Speaking of which, no need to escape to air conditioning when you have Orbit’s Flex Cobra Personal Mist Cooling Sprayer to keep everyone cool. And it’s fun for the kids to play in, too. 

Bank on Buffets

For alfresco dining, dish up farmhouse-style from a long table set up so that guests can serve themselves while maintaining distance. (Make sure each dish has a serving spoon that is used only for filling individual plates.) Consider setting up blankets on the lawn for picnic-style dining or several small cafe tables so that family groups can sit together yet apart.  

Keep Things Cozy

Just because temperatures drop doesn’t mean you have to abandon the outdoors. Stock up on soft throw blankets that you can pass out to guests at the first hint of evening chill. (Choose easy-care fabric and launder after each use.) Heat lamps go a step further – just make sure you choose a heater that can warm a large area so that people don’t have to crowd in.

Make Your Lawn a Playground

These days backyards are doing double duty as playgrounds and sports fields, so it pays to keep your lawn greener with a customized sprinkler schedule thanks to the B-hyve Smart Indoor/Outdoor Irrigation Controller. And make sure you have lots of fun gear on hand like soccer balls, badminton, and croquet to keep everyone busy. 

Banish the Bugs

Keep mosquitos and other pesky intruders from crashing the party by having plenty of bug-banishing solutions at hand. Effective options include mosquito coils and smoke sticks, citronella candles, and zapper lanterns. Even better, plant marigolds, which are the nemesis of flying insects, and give them a good soak every few days with the help of the B-hyve Smart Hose Watering Timer.

Gather Around the Campfire

Nothing brings people together like the flickering light of a fire, so it’s no surprise that fire pits are having a moment. Another popular option is the Mexican outdoor fireplace called a chiminea, typically made from terra cotta clay. Either way, stock up on marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate since s’mores will be in demand. 

Turn Your Yard into a Drive-In

Set up a screen and projector —- or even just a laptop and oversize monitor —- and you’ve got everything you need to premiere the latest summer blockbuster. You can even go for the true drive-in experience by hanging a white bed sheet from a fence or curtain rod to make a full-size screen. To complete the cinematic experience, make the menu burgers and root-beer floats —- and don’t forget the popcorn!

A Day In The Life: Korean Forest Healing Instructor

Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing

In the 1980s, Japan was struggling with a mental health crisis. Its citizens were suffering from depression, anxiety, and suicide at record levels. As the problem grew, the government hired the country’s best psychologists to come up with a solution.  

They came back with an idea that would influence Japanese culture for decades: shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” 

The government suggested that its citizens take advantage of Japan’s extraordinary forests. Psychiatrists told their patients to spend time in nature to ease the stresses of daily life. City dwellers began prioritizing time in the countryside, and shinrin-yoku gradually became a household idea[*]. 

It wasn’t long before the South Korean government noticed Japan’s success. South Korea was facing its own mental health crisis, and with 64% of the country covered in forest, Korea had a unique opportunity to try forest healing on a national scale. 

The Korean government decided to fund an enormous study on the benefits of being in nature. They designated several areas as “healing forests,” and the Korean Forest Service staffed them with “healing instructors” — park rangers who spend their days taking sick people into nature to help them get better. 

The Healing Benefits of Nature

With the government behind them, Korean Forest Service healing instructors have begun practicing a new form of therapy. 

They take small groups of people who have health issues — stress, depression, anxiety, and even cancer — and walk with them through South Korea’s dense, tranquil forests. 

At various times throughout the walk, the instructor stops and asks the members to do a simple activity. 

  • At one point, the group may lie down and look at the sky for a few minutes. 
  • At another, group members may take off their shoes and walk barefoot, focusing on how the earth feels beneath their feet. 
  • Toward the end of the walk, the instructor may ask the group members to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and listen to the sounds of nature around them. 

At first glance, these practices seem too simple to make much of a difference. How could a walk in nature help someone with severe anxiety or cancer?

But it turns out that spending quiet, intentional time in nature has a profound impact on both mental and physical health. 

Before and after each walk, the healing instructors collect data on the people walking. They measure blood pressure, hormone levels, markers of stress, immune function, and more. 

The results have given us valuable insight into the benefits of a simple walk in the woods. 

  • Walking briefly in nature twice a week reduces depression, anxiety, and fatigue, and improves markers of heart health[*].
  • Moving from an urban environment to a more rural one sustainably improves mental health[*].
  • Nature walks improve immune function and boost natural killer cell function — one of your body’s main defenses against cancer[*]. 

 Elderly people who take regular walks in nature show improvements in brain health that protect against dementia[*].

  • Spending time in nature decreases cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone[*].
  • Time in nature also speeds up recovery from work-related burnout and chronic stress[*].

In 2016, the Korean Forest Service had just three designated healing forests across Korea. Today, there are almost 40, each staffed with park rangers dedicated to improving mental health. 

The growth of Korea’s forest program speaks to a simple and easily overlooked truth: if you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, a quiet walk in the woods may help you get back on track.

How Nature Changes Your Brain

Hiking in the woods

Hiking in the woods

In 2013, neuroscientists made a fascinating discovery. As you read this, there’s a tiny part of your brain — right in the middle, between your ears — that’s on the lookout for snakes[*]. 

That brain region is called the pulvinar. If you’ve ever jumped at a garden hose or an oddly curved stick, you’ve felt the pulvinar activate. It controls attention, and a part of it is specifically made to detect snakelike shapes.

For millions of years, snake detection was an essential part of human survival. We lived in forests and caves, and the split-second advantage that little brain region gave us was often the difference between life and death. 

Today, snakes aren’t a big concern. The average American spends 93% of the day indoors[*]. We’ve traded caves and forests for houses and parks. 

But the fact that you have a special snake detection region in your brain proves an interesting point: your brain evolved for the great outdoors. 

Humans lived in nature for the vast majority of history. Our species grew up among trees, rocks, rivers, and mountains. Nature is in our DNA — and research suggests that we’d be happier if we spent a little more time in it.

It turns out your brain responds to the natural world in a profound and restorative way. Here’s why nature is good for your brain and how you can get more of it in your daily life. 

Your Brain On Nature

Simply being around nature changes your brain in a variety of ways. 

Relaxation

When your brain is in a state of relaxed happiness, it produces electrical patterns called alpha brain waves. If you’ve ever tried meditation, you know the feeling alpha brain waves create — a sense of peaceful wellbeing. 

Nature increases your alpha brain waves too. A 15-minute walk in the woods boosted people’s alpha brain waves at levels equivalent to meditation[*]. The participants also felt less stressed and anxious post-walk. 

Another study found that you don’t even need to be in the woods. Simply looking at photos of nature increased people’s alpha waves more than looking at photos of city streets[*]. 

If you live near greenery, try adding a couple nature walks to your weekly outline. And if you’re indoors all day, maybe you’ll fill your office with houseplants. It could help you feel more relaxed in your daily life. 

Depression and Mood

It’s not just what you see in nature. Your brain responds to fresh air, too.  

Plants and trees release sweet-smelling molecules called phytoncides into the air. These compounds make up many of the scents of the forest. The smell of pine trees, the deep scent of damp leaves, the menthol freshness of eucalyptus — they all come from phytoncides. 

Breathing in phytoncides may help relieve depression and improve mood[*][*]. In rats, phytoncides boost serotonin levels — the same brain chemical that antidepressants increase[*]. 

Next time you’re in nature, stand still, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. You’ll feel your nervous system calm down. 

Mental Clarity

People who spent 20 minutes gardening showed an increase in BDNF, a protein in your brain that improves learning, memory, and long-term brain health[*]. 

Gardening therapy is also common in brain rehabilitation centers. People with brain injuries heal significantly faster and report higher life satisfaction when they grow gardens[*]. 

Bring More Nature into Your Life

The easiest way to get in touch with nature is to go for a walk in the woods or a hike. But for a lot of us, that’s not a convenient option. 

If you live in the city or suburbs, try bringing nature to you. Buy a few houseplants to create an indoor jungle for yourself. Start a garden, whether it’s in your yard or on your windowsill. Or just sit outside and watch a sunset now and then. 

However you do it, find a way to incorporate nature into your daily life. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.