Most of us who enjoy spending time in nature know from experience that forests somehow make us feel healthier. There are a number of scientific studies to the physical and mental health benefits gained from a stroll in the woods such as reducing stress, lowering blood sugar, improving concentration, diminishing pain and improving immunity.
Back during the 1980s Japan developed Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing as a health benefit for their citizens. They found that forest, plants and trees emit an aromatic substance, an essential oil called Phytoncide. Researchers believed that the wood’s essential oils were at least partially responsible for the positive effects of the forest air. Some studies have confirmed that phytoncide can increase anti-cancer proteins and enhance natural killer cell activity. With the therapeutic benefits of phytoncide, (the natural aromas of wood, plants and flowers) combined with experiencing the sights and sounds of a forest can all play a part in ones health.
There are many countries that promote some form of forest bathing, encouraging their people to get outside and take advantage of nature’s healing powers. While the term “forest bathing” has been around since the 1980’s it is not wildly known, most likely people would find it easier to explain the terms “binge-watching” or “couch surfing”. Ironically in many ways these terms are the antithesis of “forest bathing”. Lying down on your couch binge watching shows and claiming it is “downtime” or “decompressing” when in reality studies shows us that a sedentary lifestyle only promotes additional physical and mental health related issues.
Our lives are busy, we put ourselves under constant pressure to strive for more. We are eager rat race participants proclaiming we are “living our best life”, yet secretly we are barely keeping it altogether. There are some who actually thrive on the hustle and bustle of daily life, yet for most of us the rat race wears us down. With just a little bit of forest bathing it can help rejuvenate you, relieve your stress and aid you taking back control of your life.
Forest bathing is not about participating in an outdoor sport activity or trekking from point A to point B. Forest bathing is a slow and deliberate journey, it’s about being present in the moment, to focus and experience the small details of your surroundings. It is almost meditative, engaging all your senses to create a state of mind so you can connect with nature. Listening and observing the forest, touching and feeling the flora, taking slow deep breaths, inhaling the fragrance of the forest air. When we slow down, good things happen, we see more, we hear more and we understand more.
Even city dwellers can benefit from the effects of trees with just a visit to the park. Brief exposure to an urban green park can relieve stress levels. Studies suggests we don’t need a lot of exposure to gain from nature, a regular interaction appears to improve our immune system function and overall well being.
Unfortunately we can’t consider our relationship with nature as a symbiotic one, while nature is constantly giving to us humans, we can not say we humans reciprocate. We would be hard pressed to even say it is a commensal relationship where by only one party benefits with the caveat that neither is harmed in return. The mindless practice of deforestation and degradation of our forest is most certainly very harmful with the loss of habitat for flora and fauna. One could say Earth is involved in an abusive relationship and at some point Earth will determine it’s had enough and will just simply dump us.
There is an old proverb, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. We as humans have to realize that replacing forests with steel and concrete for monetary gain is shortsighted. Maybe if more of us got off our couches and experienced nature and felt the benefits of forest bathing, it would enlighten us to the need for better stewardship of our planet,
There is no downside to forest bathing, let the forest be your therapist, engage with nature today and start feeling better.