Science

Shinrin-Yoku or Being in Nature

forest

A study conducted across 24 forests in Japan found that when people strolled in a wooded area, their levels of the stress hormone cortisol plummeted almost 16 percent more than when they walked in an urban environment. And the effects were quickly apparent: Subjects’ blood pressure showed improvement after about 15 minutes of the practice. But one of the biggest benefits may come from breathing in chemicals called phytoncides, emitted by trees and plants. Women who logged two to four hours in a forest on two consecutive days saw a nearly 40 percent surge in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells, according to one study. “Phytoncide exposure reduces stress hormones, indirectly increasing the immune system’s ability to kill tumor cells,” says Tokyo-based researcher Qing Li, MD, PhD, who has studied shinrin-yoku.

This Huffington Post Article doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. I think we all know how good being in nature is for us but the scientific research is a good reminder of the necessity to plunge into nature as often as possible. Too, remembering that I’m not just going for a walk I’m practicing Shinrin-Yoku .. being there with awareness, is probably going to add something beyond pretentiousness.

Epistemic Humbleness

In my post Essence, I wrote:

To the three figures of the Buddha, the Christ and the Prophet, I should add a fourth, the Philosopher/Scientist whose key truth is [epistemic] Humbleness, and whose posture and practice is that of Study. Socrates said that “The only thing I know is that I know nothing” while Newton said “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

I thought that maybe I should say that the key insight or quality of the philosopher/scientist is Rationality but somehow ‘epistemic humbleness’ seems to fit better. Isaac Newton also wrote:

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

This expresses the humility that is essential to the scientific project. It presents science as a collective enterprise that can be advanced by those of normal stature as well as giants like Newton.

Excercise, Meditation and Health

This article sparked some thoughts about meditation, both my own meditation and meditation in general.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that adults who practiced mindful meditation or moderately intense exercise for eight weeks suffered less from seasonal ailments during the following winter than those who did not exercise or meditate.
 
The study appeared in the July issue of Annals of Family Medicine. Researchers recruited about 150 participants, 80 percent of them women and all older than 50, and randomly assigned them to three groups. One group was trained for eight weeks in mindful meditation; another did eight weeks of brisk walking or jogging under the supervision of trainers. The control group did neither. The researchers then monitored the respiratory health of the volunteers with biweekly telephone calls and laboratory visits from September through May—but they did not attempt to find out whether the subjects continued meditating or exercising after the initial eight-week training period.
 
Participants who had meditated missed 76 percent fewer days of work from September through May than did the control subjects. Those who had exercised missed 48 percent fewer days during this period. The severity of the colds and flus also differed between the two groups. Those who had exercised or meditated suffered for an average of five days; colds of participants in the control group lasted eight. Lab tests confirmed that the self-reported length of colds correlated with the level of antibodies in the body, which is a biomarker for the presence of a virus.
 
“I think the big news is that mindfulness meditation training appears to have worked” in preventing or reducing the length of colds, says Bruce Barrett of the department of family medicine. He cautions, however, that the findings are preliminary.
 
Scientific American

What’s interesting in this article is not just the conclusion that meditation has verifiable health benefits but that it is apparently more effective that exercise. However this is hardly the ‘big news’ that the article claims; the benefits of meditation have been known many years. The proponents of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in particular have pointed to research detailing the effectiveness of their particular technique:

I was introduced to TM many years ago when I was in my twenties. I continued to use it occasionally but was never a persistent or consistent practitioner. I have tried other forms of meditation also but again without consistency. Dr Hageiln’s exposition on TM appears quite partisan in extolling the virtues of TM above that of other meditation techniques but from what I’ve read TM is the most researched meditation technique.

There is a comparison of meditation techniques on the Institute for Applied Meditation website. This article promotes ‘Heart Rhythm Meditation’, which I had not heard about previously, but nevertheless provides thumbnail outlines of the other meditation forms. These are of course quite incomplete but the notes are a useful starting point. The Secrets of Yoga website offers a comparison between meditation styles that is a bit more detailed somewhat less partisan.

Follow-up Reading: A Glimpse into the Meditating Brain.

Higgs Boson

Really really good exposition by Vivek Sharma. I watched half of it before my brain needed a rest. I need to watch the rest later but at least I now have some idea of what a Higgs Boson particle/field is. I’ll watch the rest later.