As oleotourism gains popularity, a growing number of activities that seek to foster healthy lifestyles are being hosted in the olive grove.
Olive oil tastings and other food-and-wine-related experiences, as well as activities, such as hiking, are increasingly popular in olive groves, which have proven to be an ideal setting when it comes to practices that promote mental well-being.
The healing effect of the contact with nature is widely supported by research.
In the center-south Italian region of Molise, an olive tree is at the center of an innovative project aimed at reducing the stress of participants with the support of augmented reality.
“We had begun to experiment some years ago with interventions in the olive grove aimed at promoting the well-being of individuals and groups,” said Nicola Malorni, a psychologist and president of the social cooperative Kairos.See Also:Health News
“It all started while carrying out the social olive farming Aspem project, aimed at female victims of violence,” he added. “They participated in the production of high-quality extra virgin olive oil, which, along with therapeutic procedures, helped them to reintegrate back into society and to recover their self-esteem.”
One day, while working in an orchard in the village of Guardialfiera, one of the participants bumped into an old olive tree that a lightning bolt had struck. Despite the disrupting event that left deep marks, the tree continued to live and thrive.
“This encounter immediately triggered emotional resonances in all of us, mainly in the woman who had discovered it, who was strongly impressed by the resilience of this living being,” Malorni said.
The tree soon became a point of reference for operators and participants, who gave it the name Fausto, from the Latin word faustus, meaning lucky or auspicious. They started to carry out sessions of meditation and yoga, discussion groups and even supervised activities for the psychologists involved in the project under its branches.
“With the use of active imagination, a Jungian method that promotes transformation and exploration processes of the unconscious through imagination, we had conversations with Fausto, which have been transcribed and also inspired a short movie, Gocce (Drops),” Malorni said.
The Aspem project was so successful that it was widely recognized as a best practice. Buoyed by this experience, the social cooperative responded to a call by the Ministry of Culture and received funding for a project that will begin this autumn – with the help of augmented reality devices, Fausto will be able to speak and lead groups through meditation practices.
“It will truly become a colleague since it will lead meditation groups just like us psychologists,” Malorni said. “This will be possible thanks to a device that emits a recorded voice inserted inside of it. Fausto will therefore be a mindfulness facilitator for 20 people, which will participate, after an open selection, in this project that will last 18 months.”
Based on a wide range of meditation and yoga techniques, mindfulness finds applications in clinical psychology and psychiatry. It is used to promote better management of stress, anxiety and depression. It is also effectively used for pathological addictions and other problems in adults and children in integration with other therapeutic means.
With its voice, Fausto will welcome the participants and give them tasks and directions to practice mindful breathing, the body-scan meditation involving bodily perceptions and mindful walking through the olive grove.
“One of the actions envisaged in the project is to demonstrate that the intervention of the facilitator Fausto will have therapeutic effects on the psycho-physiological well-being of the participants,” Malorni said. “We will then examine the initial psycho-physiological state of participants, namely the levels of stress, anxiety and depression, doing a salivary test for the biomarkers cortisol and alpha-amylase.”
The expectations of this research are that the levels recorded at the beginning will gradually and significantly decrease throughout the project.
“The healing effect of the contact with nature is widely supported by research; we are already confident of a good result,” he said.
“Indeed, we are planning to propose this therapeutic activity also to the participants of the ‘Walking Among Olive Trees Day,’” added Malorni, who is the vice-president of the association Città dell’Olio, which organizes the hiking event in the Italian olive groves each year.
The funding allows the association to obtain augmented reality headsets that will also be used to promote tourism in the region.
“With the movie director Simone D’Angelo, we will create sceneries that each participant will visualize through the headset,” Malorni said. “Fausto will interact with the characters of Signora Ava and Le Terre del Sacramento, which are two historical novels by the writer Francesco Jovine, who was born in the town where Fausto is located. As they talk about the ancient peasant world, this can be a way to convey important cultural content that enriches the tourist experience.”
“We also plan to use the income from the first experiments to modify the sceneries further,” he added. “We also would like Fausto to become a promoter of the Mediterranean diet and healthy lifestyles.”
The augmented reality project is just the latest of a series of fruitful experiences related to wellness led by mental health professionals that have been hosted in some groves of the region over the last months.
“We recently had a great experience in the Olive Tree Park of Termoli, where I led a mindfulness meditation on the occasion of the ‘Merenda nell’Oliveta’ (Snack in the olive grove) organized by the Città dell’Olio,” Malorni said.
Moreover, in the Historical Olive Park of Venafro, yoga sessions were carried out with Tibetan singing bowl music, gongs and other percussions.
“There are studies showing the effectiveness of these musical instruments in helping to reach altered states of consciousness that activate self-healing factors in the individual,” Malorni said.” These are further means that can be easily used in the orchard in the framework of these innovative approaches to well-being.”
“Olive farming is giving me the opportunity to leave the analytical study of the psychoanalyst and explore the possibility of bringing analytical psychology into natural contexts, just like Jung himself taught us when he practiced psychoanalysis in the garden or by the lake, where it is possible to rediscover a relationship with nature, with the earth mother,” Malorni added.
“In the setting of olive grove, our projects aim to promote healthy lifestyles and a healthy relationship with the environment, along with food and sport. Our view is that olive farming can successfully promote human health,” he concluded.