Nature Connection as Resistance

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a person of color sits by a tree reading a field guide with their backpacking pack next to them

The BIPOC Forest Bathing immersion is intended for Black, Indigenous, & People of color because we are the people who hold a complex relationship to wild spaces. 

 

As Black people, our ancestors’ journey to freedom from the South was a dangerous one, and only made possible by traveling in undeveloped wild areas. In order to remain undetected by slave patrols and their dogs, freedom seekers used the landscape. Our fierce ancestor Harriet Tubman- who freed over 300 enslaved people from the South along the underground railroad- did so by utilizing waterways, moss for navigation, bird language, and plant medicine. Maroon camps formed on the outskirts of slave colonies and in remote hard-to-reach wilderness areas served as a place for temporary or semi-permanent refuge for freedom seekers. Escaping to these camps was known as marronage. We still see today there is a clear connection for Black people between wilderness and freedom, and a complex duality between this freedom and fear for our lives. 

 

As Black people moved North into city centers to escape rural violence, systemic racism and intentional city planning forced us into developed areas that lacked adequate access to green space and were often placed near toxic waste sites. Today, Black people and people of color are 3x more likely to live in nature deprived areas. Symptoms of nature deprivation include but are not limited to attention deficits, mood imbalances, poor cardiovascular health, poor emotional regulation, and a compromised immune system.

 

As urbanization and exposure to toxic waste increases and access to nature diminishes, health disparities grow. Yet, trees and plants have an incredible capacity to filter out toxins from the air and water while also supporting human health.

 

Forest bathing, coined “Shinrin Yoku” in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry, is a mindfulness practice that activates and engages all of our senses and deactivates our fight or flight system. This drop in sympathetic nervous system activity allows our bodies to be more receptive to the beneficial compounds found in forest air. Phytoncide compounds, for example, are emitted by trees and plants as an immune response and contain anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.

 

When we breath in these compounds they have a beneficial effect on immune function, natural anti-cancer cell (NK cell) production, cardiovascular health, high order cognitive skills, stress responses, emotional regulation, and mental health. Time in nature also improves social connection, creativity, self awareness, and impulse control. Studies done by the Department of Hygiene and Public Health at Nippon Medical School in Japan showed that after a 3-day/2-night forest bathing trip natural killer cell production and immune function increased in participants for up to 30 days. 

Reclaiming a healthy relationship to wild land as Black, Indigenous, and People of color is a means of resistance to forces that seek to exclude us and control the way we relate to land. Being out in nature is a way for us to shed ancestral traumas related to the wilderness and feeling a sense of belonging in nature. We deserve to enjoy wild spaces and learn wilderness skills without worrying about our safety, and truly benefit from the healing that nature has to offer.