Campfires: Do They Offer the Same Benefit as Meditation?Posted by mjamieson on Aug 13, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Campfires: Do They Offer the Same Benefit as Meditation?
Well, I’m just going to be straight up about the health benefits of campfires. As I was researching this blog, I was fairly certain that I would find loads of proof that watching a campfire would provide the same benefits for the immune system as does a solid meditation practice. Nope! I could not find any scientific backing that would confirm my belief that campfires, or fireplace fires are good for you. In fact, I found much more negative information about the harmful effects of fires on your lungs and heart health.
However, I will not be deterred! I love, love, love a campfire. The flames dancing around, the sound of the wood as it crackles and pops, and the smell! That heavenly smell of a wood fire transports me to a world of cherished memories, comfort, and contentment that I am not able to experience through any other activity. And the shower after a night by the campfire! The minute the water hits you it releases one more, precious experience of that divine campfire scent being released. Heaven!
I do wholeheartedly believe in the health benefits of campfires! One year my “not so happy camper” friend decided to accompany me on my annual camping vacation. She wanted to learn what I could possibly find so heavenly about the camping experience. And for me it is definitively about the hours spent around the campfire. “I’ve never seen anyone be able to stare at a campfire for over five hours and be so totally content,” she stated to me months later.
For me, I do believe I become hypnotized by the flames, the scent, the gentle white noise of wood crackling as the fire burns surely and steadily. I am always the last to bed and won’t leave the fire until the last ember dies. The hours by the fire are relaxing and my mind easily drifts into a meditative state.
It is conceivable that the positive changes which occur to the brain while meditating cross legged in a traditional pose, may also occur while gazing at a campfire. I believe this because after seven nightly campfires, I feel calm, focused, and at ease with myself and others. This state of contentment remains with me for weeks! Other vacation experiences, no matter how glamorous or festive, have ever provided the same sense of contentment and restoration. I never feel I need a vacation to rest up from my vacation when campfires have been involved.
Christopher Lynn at the University of Alabama did a study of those watching a fire and did find that watching and listening to the fire did lower blood pressure, and the decrease was proportional to the time spent viewing a fire. While doing my research I found at least 20 bloggers who cited his study to confirm their belief in the health benefits of watching a campfire. Clearly, their interpretation of the study gave it too much credit! The majority of participants were college students, primarily female, and did not have elevated blood pressure to begin with! For those of us older individuals this 2014 study is not particularly relevant. Honestly, it would be very difficult to design a well-controlled study that would be able to demonstrate that the brain changes during the campfire experience as it would during meditation.
So, here’s my thinking! What happens around a campfire? Sometimes its community, laughter, other times a solo experience. When an experience is positive it decreases the stress response hormones. When laughing with friends or gazing at a campfire you are sincerely in the present moment. We know that laughter is good for our souls and our health.
Watching a campfire collectively or solo is a very relaxing, present moment experience which equates to mindfulness. Mindfulness, or attention to being very aware of the present moment, is a precursor for entering a meditative state. Mindfulness without meditation has been demonstrated to provide health benefits. There is some data that suggests that mindfulness can improve the immune response and have a positive impact on reducing inflammation which is at the root of many chronic diseases.
When you are laughing around the campfire how can it not be good for you! The Mayo clinic states the short-term benefits of laughter are increased blood flow, improved oxygenation, and production of endorphins. The longer-term positive effects include increased frequency of positive thoughts, which produce neuropeptides which in turn fight stress and serious illness.
And Here Comes the Big BUT!
Campfire, or wood smoke, is full of tiny micro-particles that are able to infiltrate your lower airway and can even find their way into the bloodstream. For those who suffer from asthma or COPD exposure to wood smoke can cause a flare up. For some this can be so severe it requires a trip to the emergency room. These individuals will still reap the benefit of fire gazing by watching a live streamed fire on TV or watching a DVD which Lynn did find to be effective for blood pressure reduction.
I know for certain I will not be deprived of my campfire or fireplace time. For those of us who are not ready or willing to give this up there are ways to make your campfire experience healthier.
Make your campfire experience healthier!
- Don’t breathe in the smoke! If the wind is blowing the smoke your way, move! Most of us long time campers have that down already!
- If the fire feels hot on your face or hands, back off a bit, if the heat is too hot for your face, it’s too hot for your lungs.
- Use only untreated hardwoods that have been well seasoned and dried. Some pressure treated woods contain arsenic. Manufactured logs made of sawdust and wax should be avoided. Though they produce less smoke they may contain harmful chemicals. Never cook over these unless the product states it is safe for cooking.
- Make smaller fires (this is a bit of a buzz kill, but not a bad idea!). Smaller fires produce less harmful smoke for your lungs.
- Never use accelerants which release toxins into the air.
- Be aware that wood smoke may contain carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, and methane.
Enjoying campfires seems to be a good news/bad news scenario. I, for one, will not give up enjoying a campfire because for me the benefit definitely outweighs the risk. The absolute contentment that I experience from sitting by the campfire is not one I could or would readily abandon. I believe that my campfire experience does provide the same benefit as with other meditative practices I’ve engaged in.
Gathering around a campfire harkens back to prehistoric times when the fire meant survival for humans. The fire protected early humans from predators and prey, provided warmth, a means to cook food, and built community which was critical to survival for our prehistoric ancestors. I believe the need for fire is part of our hard wiring. As our world has become increasingly anxiety provoking, many are seeking comfort and respite through the relaxation of sitting by a glowing, crackling fire. Fire pits are found at restaurants, hotels, and more people are buying and installing fire pits at their homes.
So, pull up a seat and join me by the fire!
Black, D., Slavitch, G. (2016) Mindfulness and meditation and the immune system: a systemic review of randomized controlled trials. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940234/
Brown, A. (2019) How staring at an open flame can be a ticket to calm. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/this-simple-act-can-be-a-ticket-to-calm-20190918-p52sd2.html
Cleveland Clinic (2017) Fire pits, bonfires and your lungs: 7 Safety Tips Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/fire-pits-bonfires-and-your-lungs-7-safety-tips/
Lynn, C. (2014) Hearth and campfire influences on arterial blood pressure: defraying the costs of the social brain through fireside relaxation. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268230174_Hearth_and_Campfire_Influences_on_Arterial_Blood_Pressure_Defraying_the_Costs_of_the_Social_Brain_through_Fireside_Relaxation
Mayo Clinic Staff (2019) Stress relief from laughter it’s no joke. Retrieved from (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456