By Annalisa Bragg
Let’s dig into a little deeper into the idea of a tree as a model for balance. Balance is fluid, flexible, and subject to our surroundings. It is also an area that requires our awareness and attention. Revisiting the concept of the tree as a model for balance, I want to share a few observations about the structure of the tree.
First, there are the roots, vast and expansive and hidden. Then the trunk, the interface with the world, and the structural support for the tree organism. Next are branches, followed by smaller limbs, all ending with leaves, flowers, and fruit (seeds). Occasionally, a branch dies off and is either trimmed away or breaks off with the wind. Assuming there are no fungal or insect invasions, no major physical stress to the tree, the tree grows strong and healthy, reaching for the light, it’s arm upraised, almost in praise.
In the illustration below, notice how the roots are as vast and large as the tree itself. The trunk is strong and true, and the branches reach out in a balanced way, supporting the leafy crown. As above, so below comes to mind.
Now, consider how the roots are below ground – seeking nourishment, growing deep, providing structural support, mirroring the grandiosity of the tree itself. They lie both shallow and deep underground, hidden, in the dark (with the exception of mangroves and occasional roots that emerge and run along the ground) and quietly do what they do unappreciated and often unnoticed.
Similarities and Differences
Like a tree, we have a body (trunk), arms and legs (limbs), and a head (crown). We have fluids moving around within us to carry nourishment and wastes to the appropriate places. We respirate, exchanging gases with the environment around us. And, we are capable of selflessly sharing our gifts with the world – consider Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree -bringing our highest good to fruition for the betterment of the world.
Unlike a tree, we don’t have physical roots, only emotional, mental, and energetic ones. But those emotional, mental and energetic roots can run just as deep as a tree’s to support us in budding, blooming and producing juicy fruit. The questions then become, how do I nourish my own roots to feed my growth? How can I support the balance of growth in all areas of my life? Are my roots subconsciously dictating how I am growing?
And like a tree’s roots, it requires us to dive deeply into our underground soil, those dark and shadowy places, to ask ourselves some deep questions to consider. Yes, this process can get dirty, messy, even painful, and feel laborious. But it is our one wild and precious life, and we are the only ones who can do this work.
What do you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?
Nourishing our Roots
Roots draw up nourishment from the soil. From minerals in the soil to water below ground, the tree employs this embedded system to partially feed itself. Partially, because the leaves are also providing nourishment for the tree through the process of photosynthesis and respiration. There is balance in the way in which the tree is fed, from top and bottom.
As humans, we, too, are fed from top and bottom. Using the example of the practice of Japanese bonsai, consider how careful pruning and tending can create a work of beauty and integrity.
Looking at our own roots, we can figure out what is nourishing and ‘trim away’ any unhealthy roots that are not supporting our growth. We can work with deep inquiry into patterns, habits and beliefs that may or may not be helping us grow. What are we tapping into that is no longer useful? How can we change the direction of our taproot to be a tool for our own growth and fruition?
There are many ways to do this.
Listen – are you breathing just a little
And calling it a life?
The first step is becoming aware, growing still and quiet, and being willing to dig deep into the earthiness of our existence. Be curious about what and where your roots are drawing nourishment.
That can be as simple as lying down in a place where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes, or however long you wish to pursue the inquiry. You can use your favorite visualization for drawing you into a meditative state or work with this simple one:
Allow yourself to become grounded. Feel your body settling into your space and connect with your breath. Breath flowing in, and breath flowing out… Feel gratitude for the gift of life you are experiencing right now… Connect with your heart, and feel a steady thrum in your chest. Feel that same thrum pulsing in your arms and hands, your legs and feet… Tap into your higher power… Settle into this space of connection, and breathe into it. Then, as you feel ready, begin asking these questions:
- How is my spiritual life supporting me? Is there enough of a practice to sustain/nourish me?
- Is my health in a state of equilibrium? If not, what are the exact steps for me to come into equilibrium?
- What foods and beverages are providing optimum nutrients for me? Is anything amiss?
- Is work/life balance present for me?
- Am I fulfilled in my relationships? How can I bring greater balance here?
- Am I learning all that I want to learn? Do I feel stimulated mentally? What one or two things can I commit to learning in the immediate future to feed my heart and soul?
- What is the physical environment I thrive in? Is it present for me? If so, how can I nourish it further? If not, what are the steps I can take to create my optimum environment?
Visit our Discover What You Need page to help guide you in creating balance in all the areas of your life that ask for attention.
Go outside and find a tree that speaks to you. Step into the tree’s presence and feel it with closed eyes, breathing with the tree. You are truly communing with the tree now, as you are literally sharing breath with each other. Wait for an invitation to draw closer. When you feel it, move to the trunk of the tree.
Putting your hands on the trunk, gaze up. Breathe deeply as you allow your eyes to trace the trunk, the branches, the limbs, moving outward. Are there lichens growing on the bark? What is the branching pattern of the tree? Observe the leaves – what do you notice? Drink in all the colors represented.
Lean into the tree, touching the bark, feeling the roughness or smoothness of the tree’s skin.
Breathe deeply of the tree’s scent – is it green? Earthy? Pungent? Nutty? Neutral?
Have a seat at the base of the tree, leaning against the trunk.
Gently lean your forehead against the tree. Pause here, breathing, tuning into the tree – what thoughts, feelings, or images pop to mind?
In this quiet space, ask if the tree has a message for you. Quietly ‘listen.’
Before departing the tree’s presence, if inspired, practice tree pose.
In looking at our lives, we strive for balance. Balance requires our awareness and our attention. And like in any beautiful piece of music, certain instruments have their moments to shine, just like certain areas of our lives, to make a whole complete, synchronous symphony. The point is, are we cultivating our best selves by bringing our awareness and attention to all the important areas of our lives?
Consider this quote by Jana Kingsford:
Balance is not something you find.
It is what you create.
So, what are you creating?
By Diane Przymus
- 60-second facial massage: Begin by pushing your index fingers along both sides of your nose, take a deep breath, count to 5 and release. Now place the pads of your fingers against your cheekbones and push upwards with gradually increasing pressure. Continue pushing and moving the fingers along the curve of the cheekbones until you reach the ears. Pull and rub the lobes of the ears. Next, massage the temples three times. Slide your fingers (while applying pressure up the bridge of the nose and across the eyebrows. Push your fingers up the forehead to the hairline and begin rubbing in circles around the contours of the face and scalp. Rub your palms together and place the heated palms across your closed eyes for 5-10 seconds. Take a deep breath and sense the difference.
- Neck release: Clears the sinuses and releases neck tension. Starting on either side of your spine, push the pads of your middle and ring fingers on both hands up against the base of your head. Massage areas that are sore and slowly make your way towards both ears. Make light circles down your neck until you meet your shoulders where you can apply a deep downward pressure for 3-5 seconds.
- Shoulder release: Bring one hand over your opposite shoulder and dig your fingers into the trapezius muscle while pulling forward, squeeze and release. Do this three times and then repeat for the opposite side. Next, use the pads of your fingertips and your palms to massage the pectoral muscles on your chest. Hold points that are tender for at least 10 seconds while breathing deeply. Much of our shoulder tension is often related to tight anterior muscles. End by rolling your shoulders forward and backwards.
- Low back soother: This is great for easing low back pain and inducing the relaxation response. Rub your hands together until you feel warmth being generated. Bend forward and bring your hands to your low back. Allow the warmth to penetrate into your low back and follow with gentle palm or knuckle circles and light tapping with the palms. End by holding the palms on the low back for 30 seconds.
- Acupressure points to feel calm and connected: Using the pads of your four fingers, lightly press on the middle of the sternum (the top finger should rest about 3 inches below the collar bone). With your other hand, press the pads of your index and your middle finger in the space between the eyebrows (above the nose). This is the traditional third eye position, otherwise known in acupuncture as GV 24.5. Hold these points simultaneously while breathing deeply for at least one minute. Next place the palm of the hand that was resting on the third eye on the top and center of the head. Hold this point simultaneously with the chest point. It can help us feel centered and release stress and anxiety.
By Nikki Nau
Go home to nature and let nature heal you.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Nature Has Healing Power
Many of us intuitively know the healing power of nature. We seek the quiet, peaceful experiences of hiking in the woods, paddling on a calm lake, or listening to the waves of the ocean. Some of us live a fast-paced existence where the sound of traffic and machinery becomes background noise. The experience of urban sensory overload becomes normal, and we forget about the healing aspects of the natural world. Some of us have lived our entire lives in an urban environment, and the experience of nature’s calm and healing is unknown to us.
The natural world is a place for healing our entire human organism – mind, body, and spirit. Nature provides a hiatus for reducing stress, improving cognitive function, and experiencing our connection with each other and the natural cycles of our planet.
As Richard Louv explains in his book, The Nature Principle:
“Health isn’t just the absence of illness or pain, it’s also physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, and spiritual fitness – in short, it’s about the joy of being alive.” (1)
Science Explains Healing Effects of Nature
Researchers and scientists have been noting the positive effects of nature on sick people for decades.
In the early 1900’s, Florence Nightingale’s famous Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not textbook explains:
“It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light. It is a curious thing to observe how almost all patients lie with their faces turned to the light, exactly as plants always make their way towards the light.”
Nightingale observed people’s draw to natural sunlight during recovery from illness.
Scientists have also revealed faster recovery times for patients who have exposure to nature during their hospital stays. Psychologist and architect, Roger Ulrich wanted to test his hypothesis that nature views could reduce patient stress and lead to better clinical outcomes. He examined the records of gallbladder-surgery patients over six years. Some of the patients recovered in rooms with a view of trees, while others recovered in rooms with a view of a brick wall. Those with a view of nature requested less pain medication, spent fewer days in the hospital, and had better attitudes than patients looking at a brick wall. (2)
True healing addresses more than physical symptoms, it also takes into account emotional and psychological pain. Studies reveal the psychological effect of exposure to green space in urban environments. Scientists Frances Kuo and William Sullivan studied the effects of green space adjacent to living areas. Chicago Illinois residents, who live in similar socioeconomic circumstances, were significantly impacted by different outdoor courtyards and views from their apartments.
People who had access to courtyards with grass and trees experienced 56 percent fewer violent crimes than their neighbors with concrete courtyards. Kuo suggests it was not only the experience of the green space but also the community building that occurred in that space. Residents with green courtyards reported their neighbors were more willing to help and support each other. (3)
Nature Healing Therapy
Although scientists continue to study the effects of nature on the different aspects of human experience, there are many nature healing therapies currently working for people all over the world. Here are two examples from Norway and Japan.
Green Care – Norway
In Norway, Green Care farms offer services to schools as well as health and social care organizations. Green care is the term used in Norway “for welfare services that use farms as arenas for education, child and youth services, occupational training, health and care services. “
In 2012, there were 1,100 farms in Norway that offered services for mental health problems, addiction, truancy, dementia, occupational training, and integration. Both the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development have prepared the strategy for Green Care on a national level, and there is a multitude of other Norwegian organizations that support and participate in the growing movement. (4)
People who participate in Green Care Farm therapies report:
- Improved moods after spending time on the farms
- Learning subtle social cues from animals and ways to translate that to human relationships
- Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
Therapists and other Green Care Farm participants share the social science benefits of interacting with animals on farms:
- Participants feel a sense of belonging and learn empathy from interactions with the animals and other participants.
- Participants experience achievement and a sense of purpose by taking on responsibilities to care for the animals.
- Overall, participants feel better after spending time on the farm.
Green Care is expanding to other European countries such as the United Kingdom. For more information:
Forest Medicine – Japan
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for the Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, conducted a study revealing people’s cortisol level (a stress hormone) lowered 13.4% when they gazed at forest scenery for just 20 minutes. Another study showed an increase in natural killer (NK) cells after people were active in a green setting. As NK cells increase, the innate immune response follows.
These scientific studies, along with other research, have led to the accepted Japanese health care concept called “forest medicine.” Forest medicine, also known as “forest bathing,” is drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Forest Therapy trails each year for long walks and increased health benefits.
Author Florence Williams reveals the science behind some of these health benefits in her book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.
The health benefits Japanese researchers have found, include:
- Improved concentration and cognitive skills
- Reduced stress
- Improved immune function
The forest bathing movement is moving across the globe as people see the benefits of spending time in nature. Nature and Forest Therapy training and education are spreading throughout North America.
For more information, check out: http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/ and
Experience the Healing Effects of Nature
We can all benefit from spending more time in nature. I feel more focused, more grounded, and more at peace if I take even a short walk under the trees or near water. Here are some simple steps you can take to create a personal nature therapy.
- Go outside. Take a walk every week or better yet, every day (even if it is short). Walk under trees or near water, and in a quiet place.
- Spend a minimum of 5 hours per month in natural settings. Going to a wilderness setting is ideal; however, an urban, woodland area or park has nearly the same effect.
- Plan vacations where you can spend time in a natural area.
- Overall, the more time you spend in the natural world, the better you feel!
We Are Part of the Natural World
Scientists will continue to conduct studies that pinpoint the different elements of nature and how they benefit the cognitive, physical and emotional health of humans. However, it is important to remember, we are whole human organisms – mind, body, and spirit. We are a part of the natural world – not separate from it.
As Florence Williams points out in The Nature Fix:
“I find the intellectual compulsion to break apart the pieces of nature and examine them one by one both interesting and troubling. I understand it’s the way science typically works: to understand a system, you have to understand the parts, find the mechanism, put your flag on a piece of new ground. The poets would find this nonsense. It’s not just the smell of the cypress, or the sound of the birds, or the color of green that unlocks the pathway to health in our brains. We’re full sensory beings, or at least we were once built to be. Isn’t it possible that it’s only when you open all the doors – literally and figuratively – that the real magic happens?”
Nature – Where We Belong
Go outside and be a part of the natural world that is our home. This is where human beings are meant to be and where we find our sense of purpose and belonging. Although it is easy to forget in our fast-paced, technological world, the truth of our deep connection to nature never goes away – even if it is temporarily forgotten. Be with nature and experience the healing power yourself.
Everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.
–Hildegard of Bingen
(3) (The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, by Florence Williams p. 110) http://www.florencewilliams.com/the-nature-fix/
By Annalisa Bragg
March is moving in like a lion here in Minnesota. It is icy, snowy-blowy, and the wind roars around our home. Tree branches are tossed in the tempest, flinging icy snow from their surfaces. The giant Norway spruces are dancing in the wind, sometimes gentle and slow, other times writhing with intensity, depending on the frequency of the “music.” Grandmother Willow, as we call her, has her long “hair” in tangles as the wind and snow swirl about her.
Watching this, I am grateful to be warm, dry and protected. I take a deep smooth breath in and feel grateful my breath isn’t taken from me by this raging, roaring lion. In this state of awareness, I consider those who are exposed to these elements and wonder how they are coping. With compassion, I hold them in my heart, and send out a prayer for protection for all these brothers and sisters, human and animal alike…
I am reminded of Muir’s quote:
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm,
waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.
But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.
~ John Muir
What are the internal songs you are hearing in this springtime?
The balance to March moving in like a lion is that, as the saying goes, it goes out like a lamb – softer, warmer, gentler (at least in theory). March is a month holding balance in other ways, too, in that it contains the Equinox. According to Merriam-Webster, “equinox descends from aequus, the Latin word for ‘equal,’ and nox, the Latin word for ‘night’—a fitting history for a word that describes days of the year when the daytime and nighttime are equal in length. In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring and occurs when the sun moves north across the equator. (Vernal comes from the Latin word ver, meaning ‘spring.’) “
Other examples of balance and stirrings in the natural world in March are what we see happening with the animals and the trees. With the lengthening of light and warmer temperatures, animals begin stirring out of their hibernations. As human animals, we feel these stirrings, too.
Looking at the tree’s response to this season, we see and benefit from the balancing act of the trees stirring to life again. We’ve seen the starkness of the trees, seemingly lifeless in their ‘hibernation’ or winter dormancy. As the sun warms the trees and the earth in spring, the trees begin a process of awakening. This awakening involves the lifeblood of the tree-what we know as sap. This awakening stimulates the sap to flow up from the roots (where it has remained cool and grown sweet) into the branches of the tree. The flowing sap delivers necessary nutrition for the branches, for the growth of the leaves, and to foster the process of photosynthesis. This flow of sap is vital for the tree to survive. It is sweet, juicy, and fluid. This process is a balancing act that is dependent on the seasons: spring/sap flows, blooming, greening; summer/growth and food production; autumn/harvesting, releasing and preparing for dormancy; winter/dormancy. Consider how your life mirrors these seasonal changes.
Nature works efficiently because it maintains a sense of balance, of harmony, of homeostasis. Revisiting Merriam-Webster, homeostasis is defined as:
“a relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism, population, or group.”
In essence, balance. But balance doesn’t imply rigidity or no change. On the contrary, balance is fluid, flowing and vibrant, like the sap of a tree, and is guided by the seasons of life. It flows one way and then the other. We can work in this space by consciously accepting the sometimes messy nature of coming into balance, even by realizing that sometimes feeling off or irritated is part of the process of finding equilibrium. We tend to aspire towards peace and equanimity at all costs, but all the little movements and adjustments are part of that homeostasis, even if they feel uncomfortable or undesirable. By embracing these ‘ruffled’ states, we can see that these, too, are tools to bring us back into balance. As such, balance is the state of equilibrium we find as we flow with these seasons of life.
A tangible way to play with balance and to observe some of these fluid concepts in practice is to work with the balancing yoga asana, Tree pose ( Vrkasana).
Balance in Action
For Tree pose (Vrkasana):
Stand — Be barefoot and stand. Whether you are on a mat or a firm surface really depends on your preference for stability. For further stability, you may wish to have a stable chair back, a counter surface or a wall at the ready. Stand in Mountain pose (Tadasana) and root deeply into your mat/floor. Just like a tree establishing a strong foundation, consciously extend your “roots,” anchor yourself to the floor/earth, and feel into the full length and width of your feet. Observe the balance between the right and left sides of your body. Feel the crown of the head extend toward the heavens. Breathe.
Gaze — As you feel grounded through the feet and your posture, bring your gaze forward, landing on a point at eye-height, something that will be stationary. This is your drishti point or focal point. Keep the gaze steady and focused, yet soft. Breathe.
Center — Next bring the hands together at your heart, gently pressing the palms together to bring your energy to this centered place. Feel the pressure of the palms against each other. Notice the heat transfer between them. Imagine, like the spring-awakening tree, you are drawing energy up from your roots, and that energy is moving into and between your hands. Breathe.
Draw –Now you are preparing to draw that energy/sap up further. As you feel ready to shift your weight to one foot, draw up the other foot and gently place its sole on the ankle, calf, or inner thigh (depending on your flexibility and balance strength) of the standing leg. Start low and go slow. Be sure to not place the foot on the knee. Open the elevated legs’ knee out to the side. Observe your balance and the rooting action of the grounded foot. Consider that balance is fluid, not rigid. You may observe all the micro-adjustments involved in maintaining balance – a perfect example of this fluidity. Balance is achieved through movement. Breathe, and notice how breath is fluid, too.
Firm — Begin to more fully engage both legs by pressing the elevated leg into the standing leg, and the standing leg into the elevated leg. Feel the strength of your ‘trunk,’ and the stability that is created by firming each leg into the other. Remember that a tree’s strength lies in its ability to be flexible and bend. We, too, find strength when we remember to be flexible and bend in the winds of life. Breathe, and feel your breath join with the imaginary winds of change and occasional storms of life.
Extend — If your balance is challenged, continue to work here (with support, if needed), breathing and observing. Extend compassion to yourself if you find your balance is not present for you. This is a practice, a constantly changing, ebbing and flowing (just like sap) practice. What is present for you today will be different again tomorrow.
Reach — To complete the pose, bring your awareness back to your hands pressing together, and elevate the hands through your midline to ‘settle’ suspended over your head. Your arms create a diamond shape around your head. If there is any discomfort in the shoulders, open the hands to shoulder distance. Hold here and breathe.
Bask — To release the pose, open your “branches” (arms) outward, palms up, opening into the fullness of a mature tree and hold for a few breaths. For an additional challenge, bring your gaze upward, and possibly even lift your sternum toward the sky and hold. Bask in the “glow” of the warm sun shining upon your heart and breathe it in. As you feel ready, release the leg and arms. Feel free to move or shake any body part that needs release. Breathe deeply.
Practice on the other side.
Additional questions to guide your process:
- Are there areas of my life that need balancing?
- As I identify those areas, what actionable steps can I take to bring greater balance?
- What are the juicy areas of my life? How can I infuse more sweetness into those areas?
- What areas of my life are springing forth with energy and vitality?
- What do I want to nurture further?
- what do I need to thin or prune away?
To hear an audio guide through this practice, listen to this Spring Tree Pose
Allow the example of the tree to remind you of your fluid, ever-changing nature. In seeking a sweet and juicy life, embrace the notion of fluid balance.
We are part of nature. The seasons and cycles that transform our natural world, also move and create changes within us. Look around and see and smell the burst of vibrant flowers and leaves. Imagine that powerful life giving energy is rushing forth within you. It is your time to bloom! New ideas, visions, plans, expressions may flood you. As much as possible, create space to allow these vibrant new beginnings to take root in your life. Open to the possibilities; create strategies and actions plans to nurture them. Be open to the springs and creeks teeming with life within you. And set clear, loving boundaries.
Through the 4000 year old lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we are a microcosm of nature. We can look to nature to understand the processes and cycles going on within us. In TCM, there are 5 elements that encompass and create life as we know it: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. These elements correspond to the seasons. The season of Spring represents the Wood element and is a time when the energies of the Liver and Gallbladder organs are most active. In TCM, Liver and Gallbladder have slightly different functions than their Western specifications. I will capitalize the name of the organs when I refer to them from a TCM context. Just to be clear: if someone is experiencing symptoms of TCM specified Liver stagnation, it does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with their liver function from a Western Medicine perspective. TCM often picks up on subtle fluctuations and imbalances that would not be detected under a western lens. This sensitivity is what allows it to be a truly preventative health modality. However, it is important to keep in mind that balance is a dynamic process and our ability to tune in and listen at a subtle level empowers us to course correct or seek professional help as needed.
In TCM, the Liver organ stores blood, and controls the flow of Qi (vital energy) throughout the body. If this Liver and Gallbladder energy gets stagnant, we may experience irritability, headaches, redness in the eyes, and/or tendonitis. Many of us are familiar with the complementary opposites conveyed in the yin yang symbol. This balance or lack of balance also shows up in our bodies. For example, if we do not have enough Liver Yin in the body to ground the Liver Yang, we may wake up in the night with our mind racing unable to go back to sleep.
Over the past 15 years practicing Shiatsu, I have seen my clients come in with an increase of Liver related complaints: more headaches, increased irritability, and tighter shoulders and necks are common symptoms. Here are 5 self-care practices that I suggest for balancing the flow of Liver and Gallbladder qi:
- Begin the day with meditation, exercise or yoga. This helps to get your energy moving smoothly.
- Drink a glass of water with fresh lemon (squeeze up to one whole lemon).
- Increase raw foods and add cooling, bitter greens in your salads – dandelion leaves, French sorrel and endives are great additions.
- Hold this acupressure point: Liver 3
- Allow yourself time to be truly present, enliven your senses by spending time in nature and receiving some bodywork or acupuncture.
I was sitting at my desk chatting with a friend last week in the evening hours. The weather had been warmish that day, so my ankles were bare. I finished my conversation and realized my ankles were itchy. Taking a closer look by drawing my legs up into my lap, I discovered multiple mosquito bites! Then, up from the depths, a mosquito hummed…
Realizing I was not prepared for mosquito season, I quickly jumped online and tapped into my Young Living account. Must order oils to make repellent! In my opinion, we (Minnesotans) have more than the traditional four seasons here: winter, mud, spring, mosquito/summer, and autumn.
In what seems like another lifetime, I was an outdoor educator, spending many hours of the day outside, and often 24 hours per day while leading wilderness trips. I never liked bug repellent, finding it stinky, oily and just gross. I would often wear warmer clothes than the weather warranted just to keep covered and inaccessible. But I distinctly remember the time when I could no longer use conventional/chemical repellent anymore.
I had been working for a YMCA camp as the Adventure Learning Center Coordinator. My days were spent outside, facilitating groups through the high ropes courses and low adventure elements, training others and doing course maintenance. The camp, being in a somewhat boggy area and situated on a lake, proved to be a major breeding ground for mosquitoes, often jokingly referred to as Minnesota’s other state bird. The camp was generous enough to provide us with “bug dope” for personal use as well as for our group members, who often were under-dressed and without their own repellent. Dousing ourselves in DEET-based sprays was de riguer during the summer (mid-May through August) months.
The first summer I worked at this camp, I began noticing the consistent effects of DEET-use on my body. A pattern of gut-problems began to emerge: I would spray, and within a few hours, terrible bowel cramps would ensue, followed by diarrhea. It began to affect my ability to do my job. All other things being the same, it correlated to use of bug spray. I did a little experiment and used plant oil-based sprays, and my symptoms disappeared. That was enough for me! I never looked back, and that was 15+ years ago.
If you are noticing curious symptoms following DEET use, research it. You will run across a huge variety of responses, but don’t dismiss your own experience. Trust the sense that something is not right, and look for alternatives to support you.
Here are some other links to further your education on DEET:
I figured if it will melt plastics, it is probably not so good for my skin, my internal systems or my nervous system.
Now, a few years older and somewhat wiser, my general rule of thumb is, if I won’t put it in my mouth, it doesn’t go on my skin. What?!? Yes. Our skin is our biggest organ, and it is extremely effective in transferring things into our systems. To maintain my health and well-being, that is the guide that I use and ask my kids to use.
In my research to find safe, effective mosquito/bug repellant, I have come across many plant oils that contain energetic ‘disruptors’ that disturb the mosquitoes antennae enough to discourage biting.
Neem oil is one of those. Widely used in India for centuries to thwart biting mosquitoes (as well as other healthcare uses), Neem has also proved very effective in reducing malaria cases in India. Now consider: India has many tropical regions and mosquitoes are rampant. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes (actually there are more!), and mosquitoes are rampant. I figured if Neem is effective against malaria on the other side of the world, surely it can help me not get bitten here. And it does! Admittedly, it is not the most pleasant smelling oil, but I have found it to be effective. I have watched as mosquitoes even land on me, but within moments fly away, bite free. The way I use it is to mix it with olive oil or coconut oil and we smear it on our skin. This summer I may also try to add a few other essential oils that will make it a little more yummy smelling.
Speaking of yummy smelling, these are some of the essentials oils that can go into Homemade Bug Spray: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Mint, Cinnamon, and Rose. Below you will find several suggestions for combinations.
This one is borrowed from Amanda Soule’s book The Rhythm of Family:
1 teaspoon of lemongrass oil
1 teaspoon of eucalyptus oil
1 teaspoon of citronella oil
7 ounces of witch hazel
8-0z spray bottle (amber or blue glass is best for the stability of the oils)
Mix all the ingredients in the spray bottle. Shake well before each use. Avoid contact with eyes, nose and mouth. Reapply as desired.
And Katie of WellnessMama has some great recipes with techniques on her website:
Finally, I have read that taking Neem internally, increasing garlic consumption (or garlic capsules), or increasing the B vitamins all help to reduce bites. Since everyone’s chemistry is unique to them, carefully experiment with a variety of spray mixtures or supplements to find the one that works best for you. After you find the combination that works for you, come back here to share what is effective so others can be bite-free, too.
Don’t allow the mosquitoes to hold you hostage this summer. Get outside and soak up all the beauty this season has to offer you, body, mind and spirit. And have fun!