As mentioned in the previous blog, in this one, I will introduce you to the beautiful concept of Shinrin-Yoku, or ‘forest-bathing’.
I love nature generally, but my absolute favorites have always been the beautiful forests and woodlands. They remind me of my childhood and the privilege of growing up so close to nature.
It makes me so happy to experience the increased respect and positive focus nature and forests receive now days. It is wonderful to read about an increased number of studies and relevant research focusing on the health benefits of walking in the forests and being around trees.
I hope you will enjoy the following information as much as I did ☺.
Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest-bathing
The origins of the term
Shinrin means forest in Japanese and yoku means bath. So Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, taking it through your senses. This is not exercise, jogging, or hiking, it simply means being in nature and connecting to it through the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
The term was invented in 1982 by the then-director-generalof the Forestry Agency of Agriculture, who stated that the country’s people were in need in healing through nature. It was connected to a campaign of protecting and respecting the forests. The idea was based on the assumption that if people were encouraged to visit the wilderness for their heath, they would be more likely to want to protect and look after such areas.
Based on the results of forest-bathing studies, there are now 62 certified forest-therapy centers in Japan. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 5 million people walk the forest trails every year. Shinrin-yoku has become standard practice, a way Japanese people look after their health.
Studies and research
Today there are several studies on the beneficial impact of the shinrin-yoku. These studies suggest that even two hours of ‘forest bathe’ will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. As when you connect to nature through your senses you begin to draw on the vast array of benefits the natural world provides.
Researchers at the Stanford University discovered that walking in nature help us to stop brooding on our problems. The study was conducted on a group of students who took a series of mood assessments before and after walk. One half of the group went to a green part of the university, the other part walked around a busy road with heavy traffic. The results showed that walking in nature alleviates the feeling of anxiety and other negative emotions, and that it increases positive thoughts.
Another relevant study found that, walking anywhere (urban or natural setting) reduced reported scores of anxiety, depression, anger and confusion. However, it was only walking in the forest environments that had a positive effect on vigor and fatigue. Interestingly, two ours walk in the woods had a similar effect on mood scores as longer excursions.
The benefits of forest walks:
* Lowers stress levels
When we are anxious or under stress, we release a hormone called cortisol. This hormone, when released constantly, can disrupt the body’s processes, therefore people who produce high cortisol levels are at increased risks of numerous health problems. Researches show, that ‘forest bathing’ helps to lower the stress hormones cortisol as well as adrenaline. Additionally, it helps to suppress the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight’ part that makes your heart beat faster and blood pressure rise) and enhances the parasympathetic (‘rest-and-recover’) part.
* Supports the immune system
As well as having a higher concentration of oxygen, the air in the forest is also full of phytoncides, which gives them their distinctive aroma and smell. Phytoncides are the natural oils within a plant and are part of the tree’s defense system. Trees release these oils in order to protect themselves from bacteria, insects and fungi, as well as they are part of the communication pathway between trees (the way trees talk to each other). Evergreen trees such as pine trees, cedars, spruces and conifers are the largest producers of phytoncides. Studies show that exposure to phytoncides significantly decreases levels of stress hormones and therefore helps to reduce levels of tension, anxiety, anger and hostility, fatigue and confusion. Research also shows that phytoncides could increase the numbers and activity of natural killer (NK) cells in the body (which play a critical role in the immune system), as well as enhancing the activity of the anti-cancer proteins.
* Improves sleep quality
Studies show that you sleep better when you spend time in a natural environment, even when you don’t significantly increase the amount of physical activity you do.
How you can practice Shinrin-Yoku
You can ‘forest-bathe’ whenever there are trees – in rain, sunshine ans snow. It is important not to hurry through the woodlands, as walking slowly will keep your senses open, to notice the things around you and smell the forest air.
Listen to the birds singing, animals roaming and the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees.
Look at the different shades and the sunlight filtering through the branches.
Smell the fragrance of the forest and inhale the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides.
Taste the freshness of the air, by taking long, deep breaths.
Feel the textures in the forest; place your hands on the trunk of the trees, deep your fingers and toes in a stream or lie on the ground.
Drink in the flavor of the forest to release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense.
You can read more about the beautiful, relaxing practice of ‘forest-bathing’, in the following book:
‘Into the Forest: How Trees can Help You Find Health and Happiness’, by Dr. Qing Li (associate professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, who has spent 13 years researching shinrin-yoku).
Source: ‘A new branch of medicine’, Country Living, august 2019, p. 163-166; Extracted from ‘Into the Forest: How Trees can Help You Find Health and Happiness’, by Dr. Qing Li