Mindfulness for outdoor adventurers

Lessons from the leading medical doctor in nature and forest therapy

By Leziga Barikor

The practice of mindfulness and outdoors sports would seem to oppose one another, but for Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller M.D., they make the perfect combination. Bartlett Hackenmiller serves as the medical director for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and leads workshops that combine outdoors sports with forest bathing. She has spoken nationally and internationally on the topics of nature therapy and integrative medicine.


See my full interview with Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller here.

Starting nature therapy

Bartlett Hackenmiller’s journey to becoming the leading doctor in nature therapy and integrative medicine didn’t start until after she had began practicing medicine. She is was and still is board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but as her personal life grew more hectic, her journey into mindfulness and nature therapy began.

“I practiced that [OB-GYN] for several years and found myself to be fairly burned out in the late 2000s,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “And it was about that time where I learned about integrative medicine and that there’s a fellowship in it.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller then went on to start and complete the fellowship in integrative medicine through the University of Arizona finishing in the winter of 2013.

“But along that time my husband was dealing with lung cancer and ultimately passed away from lung cancer in 2012,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “He was part of my journey for sure, into how this all happened.”

“I found myself after his death trying to reconcile death and dealing with kids and dealing with my practice that I was still kind of struggling through, conventional medicine and all of that. And learned about this idea of forest bathing, during the same time that I was spending a lot of days outdoors in outdoor adventure.”

As part of her treatment for grief and burnout, Bartlett Hackenmiller was spending a significant amount of time outdoors doing activities like hiking, mountain biking and trail running. It was during this time that she became aware of the pros and cons of outdoor adventures and mindfulness and found the balance between the two activities.

“I learned of this idea of forest bathing in about 2014 and started kind of dabbling in it shortly thereafter,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The Japanese practice of forest bathing also known as Shinrin-yoku is one activity that Bartlett Hackenmiller has specialized in and leads various workshops. She is certified with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy as a forest therapy guide.

“Now I serve as the medical director for that organization,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy certifies guides all over the world and there are currently several hundred guides internationally according to Bartlett Hackenmiller.

Forest bathing

On Saturday, April 20 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Bartlett Hackenmiller led a workshop at the Hartman Reserve in Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. The guided meditative walk encourages people to engage with their surroundings. The workshop was limited to 20 participants.

“It’s always fun to take people out for the first time,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The basic rundown of a forest bathing experience involves mindfulness.

“It’s about taking in nature through the various senses,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

She described the standard sequence that guides go through which is to take participants deeper and deeper out of their everyday conscious which she refers to as the “monkey mind” and into the subconscious mind which she calls the “liminal state.” The whole process takes at least two hours.

“We don’t cover a lot of ground,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “It’s not a nature identification walk or a hike for physical fitness or anything like that, it’s a very slow mindful walk.”

During the walk there are various pauses called “counsel” where participants share what they’re currently experiencing. It helps solidify the memories in their mind, according to Bartlett Hackenmiller. The forest bathing also always ends with a tea ceremony.

“We actually forage a plant from the woods,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

It is also during this time that she explains the herbal and medicinal properties of the tea that they begin to brew. All this knowledge comes from her background in herbal medicine.

Bartlett Hackenmiller has completed a 500-hour course in herbal medicine with the well established Dr. Tieraona Low Dog. Low Dog is a founding member of the American Board of Integrative Medicine, has worked for health related bureaucratic government committees and authored various books and research articles on integrative health.

“There’s so much that we can use from nature for healing whether it’s taking it in and using plants medicinally or just the chemicals that are emitted from plants as we’re out in nature,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

A post from Bartlett Hakenmiller’s blog explored the long term effects of forest bathing walks. She cited various attendees from her workshops and conducted a survey with the participants. According to her research 61 percent of her participants reported improvements in both depression and tension after the forest bathing activity. She also cited that 65 percent reduced their feelings of anger and 70 percent felt more vigorous.

New book for outdoor adventurers

Even while actively practicing medicine and leading workshops, Bartlett Hackenmiller has had time to write a new book on the topic of forest bathing. Her book, “The Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide to Forest Bathing,” is set to release on July 1 and can be pre-ordered today.

“It’s a combination of all the things I love,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

She was contacted a year ago by Falcon Guides a year earlier and asked to write about forest bathing. As she started working with her editor on the book, the idea of looking at various types of outdoor activities through the lens of forest bathing was one they both liked.

“It’s something I do on a regular basis whether I’m out kayaking or biking or hiking or trail running,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

The activities which will be included in the book includes those mentioned above and cross-country skiing and climbing. People interested in various activities from paddling, hiking to biking can find a forest bathing guide including in this book.

For each activity, Bartlett Hackenmiller includes an invitation of forest bathing and she also combines what she calls “plant wisdom” to it as well. She said that she hopes people will be able to experience the medicinal qualities of plants more in depth than they might usually when on an outdoors adventure.

Healing outdoors

There is a challenge Bartlett Hackenmiller faces with having to practice medicine indoors when, as she writes, her heart “physically aches to be outdoors.”

“I think I’ve often felt very confined seeing patients in four sterile walls of an exam room, and often thought ‘Why can’t we just take this outside?’” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “I’ve spent some time in a third world country in the South Pacific where they had open air clinics.”

Bartlett Hackenmiller continued: “I’ve always kind of clung to that feeling, ‘Why can’t we be outside? Doesn’t greater healing take place outdoors?’”

She explained a story about a patient she had who had autism. This patient was agitated in the examination room, leading the doctor to suggests to the caregivers going outside for the treatment. The results after a few minutes outside were drastic.

“A calming came over her and she took my hand at one point,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “That was very monumental to her parents and we were able to get to the bottom of what was going wit her and at least come up with a plan.”

For Bartlett Hackenmiller, that was defining moment for the idea of healing and the outdoors being connected. She said that she doubts there would have been progress had they continued indoors.

Nature therapy and outdoor adventures

In another story, Bartlett Hackenmiller recalls helping a group of adults with intellectual disabilities forest bathing. She ran into the challenge of some of them having wheelchairs.

“We managed to do it on a paved sidewalk behind the conference center we were at where there was a grove of trees and there was a garden of wildflowers,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said. “And it was a really great experience for me, and also I believe the participants.”

She also includes ways to get people in special populations in her upcoming book.

Getting outdoors daily

For most business professionals facing the challenge of fitting in an experience like a forest bathing workshop could make it seem like an impossible task.

“I feel like forest bathing is something that’s accessible to just about anyone and you can do it in a city, do it at a resort, you can do it in a courtyard, I’ve done it on a golf course with people,” Bartlett Hackenmiller. “It’s something that as long as you don’t take ‘forest’ too literally, as long as there are some elements of nature you can make it work.”

Taking even a brief moment to step outside of the office and walk can give people therapeutic nature health benefits .

To encourage more people to do just that, Bartlett Hackenmiller started the hashtag #OutdoorAdventurer365. The goal of the challenge is to go out for maybe 10 minutes a day and enjoy nature. She has seen a good amount of feedback from the tag on Instagram.

“I just think that there are ways that we can take little tiny breaks even in our day and appreciate nature and I think it does something for us when we do,” Bartlett Hackenmiller said.

For more information on the doctor and her workshops, visit her website here: https://integrativeinitiative.com/

She sees both patients both in Webster City, Iowa and online through eVisits.

See Recent Posts

Aerobic exercise and mindfulness

By Leziga Barikor

The benefits of mindfulness can be integrated into exercise especially the aerobic variety. Since the early 1990s there has been a rise in mindful exercise also known as mind-body exercise. There have been many studies on the benefits of mindfulness and physical exercise. By using aerobic exercises to cultivate mindfulness, people can reap both the physical and mental benefits in one.

Watch a brief interview of aerobic exercise professionals.

5 key components

According to a 2005 study, there are five key criteria for a form of exercise to be considered mindful. These are evolving principles, but can serve as helpful guidelines when considering mindful exercises.

  1. Meditative
  2. Proprioceptive
  3. Breath-centered
  4. Anatomic alignment
  5. Energy-centric

Meditative

The key component to mindful exercise is that it cultivates a mindset of mindfulness. It needs to incorporate a present moment and nonjudgmental state of self-awareness. The process itself must be the center not the goal or exercise outcome.

Proprioceptive

The simple Google definition of this aspect is: “relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, especially those connected with the position and movement of the body. ” For an exercise to be mindful it can’t be heavily strenuous. So low to moderate level muscular activity that allows for mental focus on the muscles and movement.

Breath-centered

One of the most centering activities to cultivate mindfulness is breathing. Besides various breathing exercises, activities like yoga that emphasize breathing with movement are beneficial for cultivating mindfulness. Even in the term “aerobic” it is implied that these exercises involve or relate to breath.

Anatomic alignment

This means the physical activity must foster greater spinal alignment or a specific movement pattern.

Energy-centric

Exercises for mindfulness

There are a variety of exercises that can help cultivate mindfulness. Yoga might be well known, but there are many varieties to it as well as other options.

See latest posts!

Journey into Mindful Journaling

5 Tips to Mindful Journaling

By Leziga Barikor

Traveling to a new destination can be worthwhile new experience and often times seems to go by too quickly. But the memories made while vacationing can last forever. The practice of mindfulness can help people develop their memories deeper.

Fast 5 Journal Prompts

  • What do you see here that is different from home? How would you describe it without a picture?
  • What does it feel like to walk down these streets? What is it like touching the sand, the rocks, cable car railing or other applicable items? Or think of the temperature or emotions anticipating a new experience.
  • What does it smell like where you currently are whether being out in nature, by a different ocean or in a new city?
  • What are you hearing right now the hum of traffic, the waves of the ocean, ect?
  • Did you try any new foods? What was it like?

For a more in-depth look, see the my video on travel journaling below!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be described in various different ways, but the same themes tend to appear in the literature on it.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has published many books surrounding the topic of mindfulness and is well established authority on the topic.

Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as paying attention to the moment in a non-judgemental way. To be mindful is to know what is happening while it is happening. Another word to use instead of mindfulness is awareness.

The practice of mindfulness has it’s roots in Buddhism. The Buddha’s practice of mindfulness is what brought him to the point of being the “enlightened one.”

Mindfulness can also be seen as a skill which can be improved with practice. Applying mindfulness principles can increase self awareness and give people heightened mental insights.

To sum it up in Kabat-Zinn’s own words, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Travel

When it comes to traveling, the where actually proves to make no difference to the effect of the experience. The main effect people attempt to get out of traveling or vacationing is typically more happiness. Professor Jeroen Nawijn from Breda University of Applied Sciences studied happiness as it relates to travel.

According to studies on happiness cited by Nawijn, humans can control only 40 percent of their happiness. The other 60 percent breaks down with 50 percent being genetically pre-determined and than 10 percent unintentional activities. So choosing to go on a vacation can have a significant impact on a person’s happiness levels.

Taking trips or vacationing can affect happiness through the process of the anticipation, the event and the post-trip afterglow effect. Even months later, the memories of the vacation can increase happiness.

Research is inconclusive as to whether or not people who choose to vacation more are simply happier people than people who don’t choose to go on vacations according to Nawijn’s research.

One of the ultimate conclusions to Nawijn’s study is that vacationing only had a minor affect to people’s happiness. A possible explanation for this is that in Western societies tourism is seen more as the norm and no longer consider particularly special.

Taking this research into consideration, when it comes to traveling the best way to reap the most benefits is to improve the memories made during the trip. While sustaining the positive memories of the trip, it is also important not to fall into comparison with every day life because that can lead to diminished happiness over time.

Journaling

The process of reflective writing in a journal daily can help with processing negative events and create a frame for positive thoughts to flourish.

According to M. B. Williams psychology techniques book, reflective writing helps people better understand things in life. The key to journaling is found in consistency in taking the time to write thoughtfully with a purpose each day.

Daily writing is important because patterns of behavior and thought can be captured and then later reviewed to help people predict and advert negative behaviors. It also helps to have an established record of happy days to reflect on when life gets stressful. Write for quantity not quality; journals don’t need perfect spelling, grammar or writing style.

Mindful Journaling

To journal effectively is to practice mindfulness. This calls people to be engaged observers in documenting what they see.

One way to be an observer while traveling is to look for the differences between there and home. Is the language different? Does this place celebrate different holidays? Does it differ in shopping habits, meal times, currency, accents and dialects, ways of showing respect or more?

A travel journal when done mindfully can bring out people’s creative side naturally. The work of capturing ideas, impressions, experiences, emotions, events and information can easily fall into poetic prose.

In Linda Dini Jenkins “Journaling on the road” article, she discussed the various ways travel journaling helps improve memory and enhance creativity.

Check out my video on mindful travel journaling!

“Place is a powerful force, and we’re all drawn to different kinds of places for different reasons,” Jenkins wrote.

Place indeed is a powerful force and a journal helps bring the memories of that place closer even after leaving.

A good mindful journal should not simply be a recap of the travel itinerary. It should capture scene and the essence of the most inspiring moments from the day.

One of the tips that Jenkins gives in her article to make the most out of travel journal writing is to use the five senses each day. When writing a journal treat it like detective work and investigate the new surroundings.

As Kabat-Zinn wrote, the mind is like a mirror and mindfulness allows the mind to contain, encounter and know things as they are. It is a deeper level of wakefulness during experiences that allows for a better understanding of the human condition.

Jenkins’ stated the goal of a travel journal is to primarily “capture who you are in the moment.”