Nowadays, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone without some form of technology in their hands. Although technology and the rise of social media have certainly allowed the world to be better connected, technology has all but disconnected us from experiencing the natural world.
To put this into perspective, the average American spends 93 percent of their time indoors! From spending 8 hours each day at work glued to a computer screen to returning home and “relaxing” in front of the television, we are thoroughly consumed by technology—unable to adequately clear our minds and relax.
Enter forest bathing—a wellness plan created in Japan in 1982 to promote physiological and psychological health. Although images of skinny-dipping in streams deep in the woods may come to mind (and if that’s your thing, go for it!), forest bathing does not require any water. Instead, shinrin-yoku, Japanese for forest bathing, combines nature and mindfulness to promote mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Here’s how!
Forest Bathing Improves Mental Health
If given the option of basking in the natural atmosphere of a forest or sitting in a stuffy room under fluorescent lights, which would you choose? Personally, the former sounds much more appealing, especially once you learn of how beneficial a simple walk in the woods can be for your mental health. Time spent in nature has the ability to improve a person’s overall mental performance by boosting mental clarity, concentration, and has even been known to spark creativity. Studies conducted in Japan at Chiba University have also shown that forest bathing can significantly decrease feelings of depression and reduce feelings of hostility—a stark contrast to the violent feelings associated with living in a polluted setting.
Forest Bathing Improves Emotional Health
If you find yourself having trouble managing stress or are simply unable to relax, a change of scenery may be in order. Instead of congested cities or the hustle and bustle of traffic, partaking in forest bathing is a great way to reduce stress. A simple 40-minute walk through the woods has been shown to promote lower levels of cortisol (a major stress hormone) within the body, resulting in an improved mood and feelings of good health.
Forest Bathing Improves Physical Health
A walk through the woods undoubtedly helps to clear the mind, but it can also do wonders for the body. Forest bathing increases the body count of immune-boosting natural killer (NK) cells, the immune system’s natural defenders that help the body ward off viruses and various cancers. The overall enhancement in the way the immune system functions following a forest therapy session has also been attributed to phytoncides, the natural chemicals that evergreen trees secrete. The physical health benefits of forest therapy do not stop here—meandering through the woods can lower sympathetic nerve activity and increase parasympathetic nerve activity thus allowing the body to rest and to conserve energy. If you suffer from high blood pressure, forest bathing is a great way to soothe your body and lower blood pressure levels.
“In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” —John Muir
How To Practice Shinrin-Yoku
Since its inception, forest bathing has grown in popularity and has even spread globally—becoming a favored practice in nature parks and resorts around the world. For those wanting to practice forest bathing, keep in mind forest bathing is just that—a practice. Similar to yoga or meditation, forest bathing must be done again and again in order to thoroughly connect with nature and properly heal. If you are hesitant or are unsure of how to begin, there are many retreats and workshops you can join to help you on your journey. If you’ve got a safe and enjoyable neck of the woods in mind, you can begin developing your very own relationship with nature.
Forest bathing does not have a set time frame, but walks are generally recommended to be no more than four hours long so as not to overexert yourself. Use your senses (sight, sound, smell, and touch) and do not rush; walk slowly and keep your walks to within a mile. The idea of forest bathing is not to cover as much ground as possible, but to practice mindfulness and thoroughly enjoy your time with nature.
Have you tried forest bathing?
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Photo: kazuend via Unsplash, Pixabay