The Benefits of Forest Bathing
June 17, 2019 • 3 min read
The term “forest bathing” has surfaced in recent times and has become increasingly popular. As we begin to rely more and more on technology, so many of us are feeling a disconnect; amongst one another, within ourselves, and with our purpose. To help combat feelings of anxiety, depression, and to reignite our ability to look within for direction, forest bathing is an often-suggested natural wellness practice.
The term is the English translation of the Japanese practice of “shinrin-yoku”, (“shinrin” = forest, “yoku” = bath), which also means “taking in the forest atmosphere”. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, it has become a cornerstone of preventive healing in Japanese medicine. Scientific studies have proven that spending time under the canopy of a living forest has a direct effect on our health. After all, we are creatures of nature, and as much as we seem to be doing well in cities and concrete jungles, returning to the earth is undoubtedly an intrinsic need we all have.
It’s important to note that this is not about hiking, jogging or exercising while under a tree cover. The purpose is to be connected, fully present, and aware. Here in the west, we often cloud over ancient practices by adding what we think is a benefit, but which actually derails from the initial purpose (think “power yoga”). When practicing shinrin-yoku, the goal is to simply be in nature. Connect with it through your senses, by tuning in to your sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. We are so disconnected from the natural world, that this practice allows us to bridge the gap between our everyday realities and our natural senses. What’s more is that even a small amount of time spent in nature is enough to have a significant impact on our health. A two-hour forest bath can help us unplug, slow down and destress.
Trees are probably one of the most amazing and intelligent fauna we have on this earth, and their knowledge, healing properties and multi-faceted abilities are directly beneficial to us.
How to forest bathe?
This is an activity that requires little planning and no equipment. All you have to do is find a forested spot, and leave all electronics (cameras too) behind. Let your body be your guide and begin to walk aimlessly and slowly. This practice is truly about the journey, not the destination, so don’t be fussed if you don’t actually get anywhere. If you want to stop to observe some mushrooms, run your hands over moss, bird-watch or smell some flowers, go ahead. The point is to be submerged in the wonders of the forest, so savour those smells, sights, sounds and feelings.
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What are the benefits of forest bathing?
Something that affects almost all of us these days is stress. We’re busier than we have ever been, and we’re subsequently, more stressed. A leisurely forest walk will drastically help your stress levels, with a noticeable decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. While we might think we get out for a good walk in the city, the benefit lies in walking on earth, and surrounding your being with nature. If you find yourself having anxiety, high-stress, tension and/or restlessness, an hour or two in a forest should help you immediately.
Boosts Immune Function
We often have the idea that staying in bed while unwell is the best remedy. And while this can be the case for a serious illness or cold, a walk in nature can be a powerful catalyst in the recovery process. A study conducted in 2007 showed positive evidence of this, as men took two-hour walks in the woods over a two-day period. Their results showed a 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells, which are the body’s disease fighting agents. Since so many illnesses, colds and diseases begin with stress, it only makes sense that forest bathing, something proven to reduce stress, would help boost your immunity as well!
Forest bathing is a great way to boost your happiness and mental wellbeing. Spending time in nature releases hormones that relate to the pursuit of joy, calm and peace. Without the distraction of a cellphone containing text messages, emails, phone calls, and social media, we have the time to take in our surroundings, be present, and marvel at the amazingness that our world is. Rather than feeling like we have to document it with photos and videos, we can just be, giving us agency to really connect with the natural world around us.
Spending a few days in nature is a proven way to access the creative part of our brains. A study by a psychology professor at the University of Utah saw participants increase 50% in creative problem solving after spending three days immersed in nature. It’s also been shown that our creativity is boosted when we are near running water (similar to why we have our best ideas in the shower). Spending time by a creek or river without any technological distractions is a great way to tackle a problem you might be having, come with up with ideas, or feel refreshed in your creative pursuit. The varied and verdant colours of the flora and fauna help our creative juices flow, clearing our minds of the blocks we might have had before.
Reduces Blood Pressure
This has been proven time and time again in Japanese studies, and is a large reason why shinrin-yoku became popular. If our stress levels are down, it is probable that our blood pressure will also decrease. Forest environments soothe our nerves, calm our minds, and provide benefit that reaches us on a spiritual and soulful level. The sounds of nature and the smells are instantly calming and relaxing, helping lower our blood pressure.
We can start to feel quite sluggish and foggy when we spend hours upon hours indoors. The fresh and phytonutrient-dense air in the forest, alongside the lush greenery directly help us feel more energetic and alert, versus staring at the blue light of our laptops for hours. A few hours in the company of trees and flowers is enough for us to feel revitalized and rejuvenated.
Remembering that we are creatures of nature is important in understanding why shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing is so beneficial to us. Challenge yourself to spend more time in nature!
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