YMCA Camp Moody Hosts Melanie Choukas-Bradley at Central Library Author Talk

Get outside more. Go for a walk. Advice that’s been handed down from mothers to their children since time immemorial, and perennial resolutions for many a new year. Our instincts tell us it’s right and our hearts compel us again and again toward the outdoors. Now science is catching up to the truth our guts have known all along: spending time in nature makes us well.

YMCA Camp Moody was thrilled to welcome award-winning nature book author and Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide Melanie Choukas-Bradley to Austin’s Central Library where she shared her expertise with area nature enthusiasts and explored the camp, which offers three unique forms of access to Central Texas families: physical, geographic, and financial. 

A growing body of research shows evidence that spending quiet, purposeful, and immersive time in a natural setting provides physical health benefits including lower blood pressure and stress levels, as well as boosts to the immune system. It can also improve mental focus, elevate mood, and enhance creativity.

Shinrin-yoku is the full sensory, meditative practice of connecting with nature and disconnecting from distractions. It began in Japan in the 1980s. Melanie’s book, The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect With Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life, brings Shinrin-yoku to an American audience.

Melanie spoke to attendees about the practice’s simplicity and accessibility. Anyone who has the means to get to a park, a nature preserve, or even a neighborhood creek can engage in Forest Bathing. Practitioners need only use their senses to notice what is around them, one little bit at a time.

Perhaps on your first Forest Bathing walk, you could pay attention to your sense of touch. Notice the feeling of the ground beneath your feet. Does it shift as you walk? Is it crunchy? Is it solid? How about the skin of your hands and arms? Do you feel a breeze blowing lightly through your hair? Is there a dampness in the air? Notice each of these sensations with the curiosity of someone who has never experienced them before. You are now a Forest Bather.

As growing evidence continues to illustrate the correlation between nature and health, education professionals are beginning to take note.

Westcave Preserve Education Director Paul Vickery attended the author talk, and he was reminded of “how refreshing and inspiring it can be to get outside.” One of Melanie’s methods of tuning into nature involves facing a creek and cupping one’s hands around the ears to intensify sounds. “I work with middle school students, and the technique… is something I’m looking forward to trying,” Paul said.

Photo by Amos Clifford

Melanie spoke about some exciting initiatives that medical professionals and advocates are pursuing. More and more physicians are embracing nature therapy as a useful and necessary component to patients’ overall health. The New York Times recently published an article outlining the steps some doctors are taking to bring people to nature. The resulting developmental, physical, and social benefits extend not just to patients, but to doctors, too.

Accessibility to nature can present a challenge, especially for low-income families and children. Justine Salsbury is the Director of El Ranchito, a summer camp that connects low-income children with the natural world and develops conservation minded service projects for teens and young adults. On a daily basis, she sees the difference it makes in the lives of young people when they immerse themselves fully in nature. “I look forward to committing the health benefits to memory and learning more about doctors’ advocacy for and prescribing time out in nature,” Justine said after hearing Melanie speak.

If the science isn’t enough to convince you, listen to your instincts (and your mother’s age-old advice.) The simple truth is, forest bathing just feels good. After hearing Melanie speak, Julie Graham of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center committed to a mindful slowing down on her daily walks. “Though I take a fifteen minute power walk every day, I’ll be sure to also take time to enjoy it and take a real break.”

As we launch into 2019, consider intentionally slowing down and using your senses to notice the nature that’s around you. Really take in the variation in color of the sunrise during your morning commute, or listen to the sound as a flock of birds takes flight outside your office window. These brief moments of clearing your mind and observing the natural wonder that surrounds you can be good for your health.

Photo by Amos Clifford

If you’d like more immersive natural experiences for yourself and your family, check out everything that’s happening at YMCA Camp Moody, an 85-acre multi-use site along Onion Creek. Designed to be affordable and accessible for all abilities, it’s our newest and most ambitious project to date. Join us in building this legacy project right in Austin’s back yard.

Blog header photo by Amos Clifford



Roxanne Rathge
All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer. Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to info@austinymca.org

Contribute to the Y

We believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. As the leading nonprofit committed to helping everyone thrive at each stage of life, we are uniquely positioned to take on new and long-standing challenges more comprehensively than anyone else.

Your support through the YMCA of Austin’s Annual Giving Campaign makes this possible.