|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
TB: Tanya Bailey
JL: Jean Larson
MF: I’m excited for this next conversation. It’s going to be a fun one. We are being joined by Jean Larson and Tanya Bailey from the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. They’re doing some fascinating work that I can't wait to know more about.
BN: The program we’ve invited them to talk to us about is centered around nature-based therapeutics. When I received the press release about this new endeavor out at the Arboretum in Chanhassen, Minnesota, I was thrilled, because I have always had an interest and a fascination with plants and botany. I love being out in nature.
Oftentimes you’ll go to a botanical garden, and really spend a lot of time looking at labels next to interesting looking plants, and this seems to me such a perfect and natural extension of work being done at the Arboretum. I’m thrilled to hear that it’s happening. Without me talking more, I just want to welcome you both, Jean and Tanya, to Animal Wise Radio.
Perhaps, Jean, you could start the conversation by telling us a little bit of an overview about what this program is and how it fits into the mission of the Arboretum.
JL: Sure. It’s great to be here. Thank you for inviting us. We’re thrilled to be here. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, if you don’t know about it, we are a part of the University, but we’re mostly on our own. We have our own foundation. We have just a little bit that’s associated with the University.
We have a mission of education, research, and delight. That’s how we say it in our mission statement. We have public gardens where we bring people out and just enjoy the space, and then we have researchers who are doing a lot of work with cold hearty Minnesota plants. If you had the Honeycrisp Apple, that was developed out at the Arboretum, if that’s a favorite of yours.
BN: People are crazy for the Honeycrisp all over the U.S.
JL: That’s true. That was developed out the Arboretum. We have an education department. We serve about 30,000 kids each year through our education program. We also have adult education, and then the nature-based therapeutic services through the education program as well.
I’ve been at the Arboretum for 20-some years, and in my time at the Arboretum, I’ve been cobbling together this program that has expanded into plants to animals. That’s my own personal love of animals and plants, so how can you not be bringing in your personal interests when you’re working at such a great place as the Arboretum? Over these 20 years, I’ve been putting this together, and just in the last couple of years we’ve been able to formalize it into the nature-based therapeutic services.
I have a dual appointment, so part of my job is managing the program out at the Arboretum, and then the other part of my job is I’m an Assistant Professor out at the Center for Spirituality and Healing, which is a part of our academic health center. It’s an integrative medicine program at the University. I teach courses through the Center, and part of research programs at the center. We cover everything from program services to teaching graduate level courses to research projects, and then outreach services as well.
We have a conference coming up March 14th and 15th. It’s called “Nature Heals.” We’re bringing in some great speakers to talk about our connection to plants and animals from a neuroscience standpoint. Basically, how we’ve coevolved with plants and animals, and how that’s a part of our brain structure that we feel better when we’re with plants and animals. We’re bringing in two authors to talk about that in March. That’s a part of our outreach program as well.
BN: That sounds terrific. It resonates with Mike and me on so many levels we can't even say.
MF: I don’t know if you heard in Animal News, we just did a story about people in L.A., when the lights went out in L.A., they saw the Milky Way for the first time, and they freaked out and called 911.
JL: I know – isn’t that sad?
BN: I would like to quickly before we have to go to break, just introduce Tanya Bailey to our listeners as well. Tanya we’ve spoken to over the years and met a while back. I think I met her seven years ago or something like that when she was busy doing a lot of work with animal-assisted therapy, and I think perhaps some research at that time, I’m not sure – you’ll set me straight later, Tanya.
You said earlier, Jean, that you have been at the Arboretum for 20 years, and how could you not include animals, and that you had a personal love for animals. I want to explore that in the next segment, because I bet that there are plenty of people still out there in the therapeutic community who think, “Why would you?” I’m interested to hear how this evolution where you’re drawing it in has come along, and what kind of vision Tanya might have as she’s developing programs to add to this program.
MF: I want to get back also to this concept of what I often refer to as the “Nature Deficit Disorder.” When we see these people in L.A. who had never seen the Milky Way, what does that say about their psyche and spirituality and connection to earth or being interconnected? What does it say about their spirit? What does that say about our society, and what are the implications?
BN: We’ll answer it all in the next segment.
JL: I was going to say, we’d have to have a show for a couple hours for that one.
MF: We’ll be back with all of that.
MF: We’re talking with Jean Larson and Tanya Bailey, and they are with the Landscape Arboretum here in Minnesota, and they’ve got an amazing program. I’m taken aback by the fact that there is a program like this. I am enthralled with it. It’s about nature-based therapeutics.
BN: It’s a part of their educational area out at the Arboretum. I loved the mission statement that you said, Jean, in the first segment. “Education, research, and delight.” Wouldn’t we all be a little healthier if we found ourselves delighted more often?
MF: Tanya, there’s a question I’m curious about. I’ve used the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” a couple of times. I’m curious if that term applies to the work that you do, and if so, can you explain what it is and how you deal with that?
TB: Yes. Thank you for having us on. I really appreciate the opportunity. “Nature Deficit Disorder,” is a term that was coined by Richard Louv in his first book, “Last Child in the Woods” in 2008, and it absolutely applies to this work.
I think on so many levels in your opening statement, Mike, when you said you were enthralled and amazed that something like this exists, there’s a part of me that also says, “It’s about time something like this exists! Where has it been? Why has it been not happening before now?”
I think a lot of it really comes down to some of those pieces that sadly we’re seeing, not just in young children, as Richard talked about in his first book, but also in so many adults that we work with. I know for me, it’s very seductive to get attached to the technology and so many of the things that keep us hardwired into the world, and then to unplug from that can really be a difficult thing.
We’re not just seeing this “Nature Deficit Disorder” happening in kids – we’re seeing it in all walks of life. It strikes you no matter your economic position, your cultural position, it doesn’t care what sex you are. It will grab hold of you and be pretty seductive.
One of the best things that helps people get unplugged from that technological connection is to be out in nature. Sometimes it’s just as simple as taking a quick break, getting up from your desk, walking outside, and just noticing, been attentive, being mindful. There’s a really interesting component to this that really helps people stay grounded in their body. I truly believe that in over 20-some years of doing this work when people are really connected to who they are internally and they’re aware of, “I’ve got stiffness in my shoulder,” or, “Oh, I’m really holding my breath tight,” when they have that awareness, they’re going to be a lot more present to decisions that they’re making. We have to make some hard decisions in this world. It’s not an easy place right now.
Just that very simple activity of just walking outside of your cubicle and going outside, getting fresh air, all the way up to a much more facilitated interaction which we are doing at the Arboretum with plants and with animals where we have a much more therapeutic component and overarching agenda to our programs with people. We might be working with people that are having issues around depression or anxiety, or individuals that have various physical disabilities. It again is something that is so simplistic. What I say often is, “It’s in the simplicity is the power.” Because this is so simple, I think that’s why it has probably taken so long for it to finally gel and come together as something that is recognized.
I think for so long most of us have walked around in that ‘duh’ factor – of course, why wouldn’t we want to be outside? Yet, there are many other things that draw us away from that. We really now have to have a much more prescribed activity, and we have to be mindful, and we have to be much more methodical about it and getting people involved in these pieces. I know that once – and I’ve seen it time and time again – once I get them involved and once they are doing the activities and making the connections, they very easily can slip away from those connections that have held them away from being in nature.
MF: You talk about depression, you talk about all these different issues – I think people run around in our world feeling a hole that they’re trying to fill, and feeling disconnected. As you were speaking, an experience that I had early in my young days came to me, and I just want to explain it really quickly. I’ll try to be very brief. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
I was up at the Environmental Learning Center in Minnesota. We were radio collaring black bears in the middle of winter in the Superior National Forest. We cross-country skiied that day about 10 miles into to find this bear den. The bear was sleeping, and needed to be tranquilized.
I had not spent much time in the winter outside in Minnesota before, and was not having such a great time of it, actually. We had gone a long way and I was getting tired and hot, and we stopped. There was a spring shooting fresh water up out of the snow. This beautiful hole in the snow, and water was shooting up.
We stopped to drink, and I looked over to my left, and there was a frozen lake over to my left side. It was completely ringed with beautiful pine trees, and the sun was on the other side of the lake. The sun was glistening on a freshly fallen snow, and it just took my breath away.
The closest thing I could think of and the thought that popped into my head was, “Oh my gosh – I just saw the face of God.” That was the feeling that hit me. I will remember that moment forever. Talk about feeling absolutely connected to everything in the earth – it just hit me right there. I’m guessing when you talk about the spiritual aspect of your work, that’s the kind of stuff I’m hearing you talk about.
TB: Exactly. I don’t think you could say it any better than that story, Mike. That was a beautiful, pure representation of the work that Jean and I are doing, because it very much hits at a spiritual component. It is something that we necessarily can't quantify, and frankly I don’t necessarily know if it’s all that important to quantify that.
BN: I’m going to push that a little bit, because I know that you both have been scholars, and are active being that you are somewhat connected to the University of Minnesota, obviously an academic institution. There’s always this drive for data, data, data – given that some people would look at these types of things – plants, animals, spirituality, as just really soft things, I know you do make efforts to measure. How do you do that? How do you present these ideas and concepts to a bunch of skeptical therapeutic type people, or people who are going to help fund this program or not fund this program?
JL: We’ve come at it from the hypothesis of biophilia, which is our innate attraction to nature. It’s in our bones. It’s in our DNA. It’s in our inner soul. I’d like to explain that hypothesis with biophobia – that idea that we kind of react adversely to snakes, spiders, and things that we, through our evolution of time, have learned to avoid. The biophilia is we have this innate connection to nature. Your experience up in the North Woods – you had this transformative experience because it’s in your bones, it’s in your body, it’s in your DNA.
The theories that we work from to help to identify, the reasons why we have this innate attachment to nature is that we come to it from two different standpoints. There’s something called Attention Restoration Theory in art. It’s that idea that you’re working really hard, your brain is just focused, and you’re real stressed. Then, you look up into a beautiful window or out into nature, and you have this distraction. Your brain literally goes into this place of decompression. Your body is able to reboot itself so that you can redirect your energy, in fact, after you’ve had this little diversion.
The other area that we focus on is psychophysiological stress reduction. It’s the idea that as we’ve evolved, that we have learned different ways, different locations – like when you said there was water coming out of the spring, we find places that have kind of a bluff so we can look out and see the areas in front of us. We have protection behind us. We have water. We have food sources. Those are areas that we’re drawn to, just as a people, because those are areas that we can survive in. In that sense, the researchers continue to take to those theories to help to support and prove the idea of the hypothesis of biophilia.
We do that in ways that are measuring physical, social, psychological, cognitive benefits to an individual – that’s really the area that more of a therapeutic level would be, coming at it from horticulture therapy, or if you’re coming at it from animal-assisted therapy. If you’re looking at therapeutic landscape design, that’s another area in which you could be helping to prove those theories. We also look at green exercise, that your body reacts a lot better when you’re exercising outside.
There’s a whole new area – probably not new, but it’s new within the researchers – care farming. How people with and without certain disabilities working together on the farm and participating in that agricultural or that rhythm of farm life, where there’s animals to take care of, there’s food to grow, and how that’s benefiting individuals as well.
I just came back from Norway, and they’re really taking the forefront within care farming. It’s really quite amazing to see all the stuff that’s happening throughout the world within this area. The research is happening.
We’re looking for areas that we can have more biomarkers. We’re looking for things with the hard science, the randomized controlled studies, that’s coming through cortisol levels or different ways that you can measure brain activity. There’s some really amazing research happening in Japan, where they are measuring individual cortisol levels and brain activity when they go out into a forest. They’re calling this whole area of study “forest bathing.” As you walk in the forest and you’re breaking the essential oils from the cypress needles, that essential oils are coming into your olfactory and just the experience of walking, that physiological kind of de-stressing. They’re finding some really amazing evidence that’s helping to again support that idea that we come from the earth.
BN: Jean, I think we could have 20 shows just on those few nuggets that you gave us, but I’m super curious – and we’re running tight on time, and I know Tanya’s been working on some programming ideas and things, and I’m just wondering if you can tell us, Tanya, where you see things moving in the next six months, or what kind of program offerings might be interesting to people in the near term.
TB: Yes, thanks for that. In the next six months, it’s to roll out a lot of programming from a professional development perspective as well as group type services. In the next two months, March and April, we have three workshops specifically around animal-assisted interactions, and then we have the fourth workshop, which is the Nature Heals Conference, on March 14th and 15th. That’s our kickoff. That’s our coming out party, so to speak, and we’re just super excited, because it’s going to be an amazing program. I really hope to see a lot of people come out and learn more about this.
March 6th I have a workshop that starts, and it’s a year-long workshop called Equusnimity. It’s working with horses and labyrinths up at the St. Paul campus at the equine center. March 9th starts a three-month program for professional development workshops in animal-assisted interactions. It’s for people that are in the community wanting to learn more about how to do this work. You do not have to be a therapist. Just anybody that’s interested in how to connect more with an animal from the perspective of being a professional.
April 19th through 21st is another conference with a colleague of mine, Leif Hallberg. We’ll do a week-long intensive primarily looking at the work with horses from a mental health and learning perspective.
Then from there, we’re rolling out new programs for school groups and for other mental health and social service agencies, looking at providing group programming, both where I come in with different registered animal assisted therapy teams to do work, as well as people that are wanting to get their own training to work with their appropriately trained dog to provide this work, both in a school setting, or a mental health/social service setting.
There’s lots of opportunities, and the floodgates have opened at this point. It’s pretty exciting and amazing to see all of the new offerings and excitement from people. We’re reaching a brand new audience that I couldn’t be more thrilled about.
MF: It is really just fascinating stuff. We’re going to have to keep in touch with you on an ongoing basis to see what’s all going on. If people want more information, they can find it online at www.arboretum.umn.edu.
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