Category Archives: Health & Wellness

How Hiking Helps Me With My Depression

I have really allowed myself to be vulnerable and opening up about personal and private things that I’ve always, and typically kept to myself. But, it’s been easier to talk about depression and mental illness lately so, as I said before, I’m doing this for others, and I hope to learn from my own admissions as well.

So yes, I have depression. Situational Depression to be exact. It is exhausting and leaves me very susceptible to extreme cases of self-doubt, insecurity, instability, rage, sadness, despair and many other feelings that culminate with me blaming myself for just about everything.

Situational Depression is very different from Clinical Depression. Clinical Depression or CD, is medically diagnosed and treated with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both. Situational Depression, can be self-managed, and can last for an hour or a few days, depending on the circumstances. (or situations)

Does Hiking Cure Depression?
I treat my depression by being active! I spend a lot of time in my garden, I hike, I bike, I write (as you can see) I dabble with a little Minecraft, and of course, spend time with my wonderful and amazing children, doing basically whatever it is they want to do. (LOL)

My favorite thing to do for myself is Hiking and spending time in the woods.

I consider myself a Nature-Man, a Survivalist and others call me HikeMasterJ, that is my alter-ego, who will not be speaking with you today. Next blog, maybe.

Hiking is therapeutic in many ways and can be used as a primary exercise activity or it can be added to any work out regimen. Hiking is great for your legs, your butt and your joints, not many specific exercises, target each of those at once.

In Japanese culture, spending time in the woods with nature is called, “Shinrin-Yoku” or Forest Bathing. Through this practice, you literally take in the natural atmosphere around you. The air, the sounds, the smells are all present to help me detach from whatever is troubling me and focus on being better to myself, for myself.

Before I go into the woods, I think of the Matrix. I feel like I am leaving the “system” behind, and I’m an unplugging and going into the real world. I detach from steel and stone, electricity, noise, and all the social atrocities’ that come with being connected to the grid. When I’m in nature, I’m off the grid and I like it that way. If I’m with a group, I know that I have a responsibility to them to make sure we all get out safely, however, when I’m alone, I free myself and my mind and allow the forest to envelop me and wrap me into a timeless and limitless euphoria that only nature can create.

I listen to the hundreds of birds, the thousands of insects, the wind through the trees, the crunching earth beneath my feet, it’s almost musical, rhythmic and cosmic, connecting to the Earth by touching leaves and tasting edible plants. Discovering new paths and remembering old ones.

There are times when it’s just me and the Sun, me and the trees and, I even accept the bugs too. This is all to say that being in nature, helps me with my form of depression, it always elevates my oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin levels. To me, it’s the best exercise, it cleanses your pores, and your soul at the same time.

When I leave the forest, I feel refreshed. I know that I left everything out on the trail. Blood, sweat, tears, it’s all a process. I’m sure there are forms of depression that can be managed by increasing your time in nature, Situational and Seasonal Affective Disorder, are a couple of them.

I am grateful to the hundreds of people who have spent time with me in nature, helping me heal myself and I hope that you have been able to heal yourselves as well.

I think I’ll make a conscious and deliberate effort to spend more and more time in the woods, it’s my therapy, it’s my church, it’s my safe space…it’s my Zion.

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Spending time in nature appears to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress, and negative affects while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being”.

 

 

 

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Staying The Course

Hike4Life is a community based organization that began at a very grassroots level and was set up to introduce people of color to the wonders of the Great Outdoors.

While our “tactics” and approach may not be popular with some of our peers, business associates, “mentors” or general public, we raise the question as to why? We don’t discriminate against anyone; we’re targeting an area with a problem and working to solve it.

What’s the problem?
1. Nature deficiency, spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
2. Limited or no knowledge of available green spaces and outdoor enrichment programs if any are available.

3. Sedentary lifestyles, which could lead to various medical issues. (Hypertension, Diabetes, Child & Adult Obesity)

Despite not having statistics to prove these common problems, we have to acknowledge that they do exist. What we are trying to offer is a healthy alternative to doing nothing, standard exercise, life-threatening surgery and expensive gym memberships.

African Americans are not historically comfortable being outdoors. White Americans have enjoyed the benefits of growing up with resources that gave them access to outdoor programs, like the Boy Scouts. Or family vacations that would take them to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Not to say that black people have not been to these parks, they have, but at much lower numbers.

Here’s part of the reason why.
“Parks: It shall be unlawful for colored people to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the benefit, use and enjoyment of white persons…and unlawful for any white person to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the use and benefit of colored persons. Georgia” http://www.nps.gov/malu/learn/education/jim_crow_laws.htm

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We’re under scrutiny because of our focus, and though we understand that there are whites that may have had limited amounts of exposure to nature, Hike4Life will continue to work with African Americans and other minorities, who have been historically affected by laws and by discrimination in our state and national parks.

Here are some figures.
In 2014, 38.5 million Americans participated in hiking and camping. African-Americans made up less than 8%. (STATISTA)
In 2014, outdoor program and retail spending was 4 Billion dollars. African American spending was less than 2 Million.
(REI)

Although this data clearly shows a tremendous participation and spending disparity, there could very well be a significant amount of urban white Americans that have little to no exposure to nature but in comparison, Black Americans are spending far less time outdoors.

We are connecting with a community that has been ignored, looked over and bypassed by the Get Outside and Green Movements taking place all around the country. Be it running, hiking, recycling or composting. Outdoor related activities, environmentally friendly or Earth conscious programs have not been prevalent fixtures in communities of color.

Some Public schools have recently gone “Green”, by updating their buildings and implementing green projects with students.

“With a focus on Whole School Sustainability, Boston Public Schools are bringing together departments, community organizations and school leaders to make real impacts in saving energy, recycling, promoting health and wellness, and connecting students to environmental, STEM and community learning opportunities.” – Greening BPS

With all of the great efforts to make these Whole School Sustainability projects work, how many students are continuing these practices at home? You can tell a student to put plastics with the plastic and papers with the paper but, how do you indoctrinate this into their lifestyle? Introductory workshops that discuss in detail the benefits of recycling or using low energy light bulbs at home as well as promoting health and wellness, are crucial to the future of each student as well as the community. While this is fairly new to BPS, funding for programs like these in non-minority communities has always been available and has become part of the green culture in suburban schools. While this is not the fault of any student, why isn’t this implemented by the entire school system in the Commonwealth? Schools outside of the city thrive with outdoor events, activities and athletics while urban schools remove programs like gym, recess and field trips.

Trying to find cost-effective and FUN ways of exposing African American children to nature, through schools or through families and individuals, has been a daunting task but, the rewards of seeing a child’s face in the midst of discovery makes it all worth it.DSCN3668

This has been our local mission for over five years. Offering an outlet, sharing information and showing people that there are places that are close by, but can feel like worlds away. IMG_2573_Snapseed

We can no longer put into practice, unadventurous tactics, in regards to educating, exposing and reaching out to urban families, urban professionals and urban businesses that have no direct ties to outdoor enrichment programs. We have to be fun, active, healthy and ready to take on the challenge of changing the culture from the hoods to the woods. We have to find creative ways of getting new people to get on board with what we are trying to do.

Our mission is not to create a separate African American culture of outdoorsy folks; our mission is to service, the under-served and to erase the deficiencies of the nature-deficient. Several African American organizations across the country welcome all races, while still focusing on changing the narrative of African American engagement with the outdoors and nature. IMG_0107

We invite everyone to hike with us and participate and be a part of our health & wellness initiatives. We are not an exclusive club; we share experiences and have fun with everyone!IMG_1373

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Our mission.
We dedicate ourselves to provide a safe, educational and adventure-filled outdoor space for children, teens and adults. We will constantly strive to implement important initiatives required to achieve our vision. We want to be a tangible connection between the urban community and the Natural World around us.

 

Franklin Park: City Park or City Dump

I was happy to get out of the house this morning to check out Franklin Park for tomorrows Spring Equinox Hike. Took a nice long walk, stretched in the sun and rode the T. To my dismay, once arriving at Franklin Park, I could see the paths weren’t in the best shape but I did not expect to see this…
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Frozen mountains of street muck and grime; polluted snow and garbage blocked the entry way to the paths that lead to the walkway around the park. There was nowhere for me to go. There are several 10 foot high reminders of our harsh winter and they look horrible.

With nowhere to go except away, I pulled out the camera and started to document this annual occurrence of dumping in hopes of bringing  awareness to the situation. Before I left, a Boston Parks Department car pulls into the lot. I went over to ask about the snow being dumped in the park. At first he stubbornly sat there, staring at me and my camera and didn’t say anything. Finally he said, “We didn’t have anywhere else to put it so, we decided to bring it here.” I said, “Oh, dump it here huh? OK.”

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I turned away from the driver and pulled out my notebook to document exactly what I was told and write some other notes. He drove by me slowly to get a good look at my face, I made sure he could see all of it.

This is truly a sore spot for me, why? I sit on the Board of Directors of Franklin Park Coalition and I feel that there is not enough being done to protect the park from the city when the city wants a place in our community to dump its snow.

The so-called “Crown Jewel” is treated like a paper crown from Burger King.

As a member of the community, an environmentalist, conservationist and a concerned park user, there’s no way for me to clearly justify why Franklin Park should be used as a snow dump. Then I began to think about the side of the park that gets dumped on. The debated “black side” as many park goers call it, has seen its days of dumping in the past however, I don’t recall seeing the parking lot by the golf course ever used as one, if so, it’s still not justified.

I decided to take a walk, “Let’s go see the Jamaica Plain side of the park.” I said to myself as I walked in the streets because the sidewalks around the golf course were covered in ice due to melting snow,. I took some pictures of geese and made my way to the JP side and lo and behold, plenty of trails open for cross country skiing, snow shoeing or walking. (A bit icy but not impossible)
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I met a couple of women with their dog walking casually along the path, no worries, enjoying the day, the sun, the walk and all was well on the Jamaica Plain side of the park. By no means are these paths clear and safe but, they are distinguished paths, that look like paths and are not blocked by snowtrash!
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I’m not a trouble maker but I’m a pointer-outer of issues that could seem problematic for people that pretend that race issues don’t exist when it comes to city management and how certain neighborhood fare better than others. Due to social media, it’s easy to get info from all around town; during the worst parts of the blizzards we had, there were reports that the South End and Jamaica Plain were dealing with less issues with traffic due to streets being cleared immediately while communities in Dorchester Roxbury and even South Boston, were ignored. Snowplow drivers, cruising around with their plows up, not dropping salt and ignoring streets completely. Then when they were plowing, they’d be reckless; breaking off side mirrors, tearing down stop signs and damaging cars.

I understand (Mr. Mayor) that this was a bad winter season but, there are so many things that could have been done to prevent the mess that this winter has caused. There are plenty of vacant lots where snow could have been dumped that would have less of an environmental impact or much less of an eyesore thank to see our beautiful park polluted with tons of filthy snow. With the condition that it’s in now, I can only imagine how bad it will look in April.
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Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that once the snow is gone, a thorough and fast cleanup happens to restore the park to its once green and scenic beauty.

– H4L