If you want to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors, you should definitely add forest bathing to your to-do list. And don’t worry, you don’t have to live in a heavily forested area to benefit from this natural therapy. In fact, there are even many forest bathing sites in cities across the parks. The concept of forest bathing, which is exposing yourself to nature for physical, mental and emotional benefits, is quite timeless, but it is certainly very trendy in recent years. It’s not hard to find a forest bathing book online or in bookstores, and you can even find forest bathing youtube videos. One of the most impressive effects of forest bathing is its ability to encourage relaxation and reduce stress, which is huge since stress plays a role in so many acute and chronic illnesses.
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing is also called shinrin-yoku. In Japanese, shinrin means “forest” and yoku means “bath”. So if you put all of that together, shinrin plus yoku equals forest bathing or bathing in a forest environment enjoying your surroundings using all of your senses. What is the tree bath? Some people also call forest bathing “tree bathing” or “nature therapy”. Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing is said to have officially started in the early 1980s in Japan, where it is still a form of preventive medicine and natural treatment today. From an anthropological point of view (study of humanity), forest bathing or natural therapy has been practiced by various tribes and cultures since the dawn of time.
When you practice forest bathing, you are not trying to do a workout that will make you sweat or make it to the end of a long road. Rather, you are simply connecting to the nature around you. Today, natural therapy is practiced all over the world, in all kinds of beautiful forests. Japan remains one of the regions of the world that, unsurprisingly, cherishes forest bathing. It is a country that currently has more than 60 forest therapy camps. To take a forest bath, you immerse yourself in a naturally beautiful and healthy forest environment, using your different senses (sight, hearing, smell, etc.). It is a very peaceful and positive experience with scientifically proven health benefits, which I am about to share with you.
It’s known as Japanese forest bathing, but other ancient medical systems are certainly fans of the practice, including traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views human beings as inseparable from nature and places great importance on staying in touch with our natural environment. Many TCM practitioners consider our bodies to be a reflection of the natural world. Forest bathing or natural therapy is a popular method of maintaining homeostasis in the body, as are other TCM practices such as acupuncture.
Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes universal interconnectedness or the idea of a connection between people, their health and the universe. Yoga is one of the many natural ways Ayurveda uses to maintain this interconnectedness, and nowadays yoga is associated with forest bathing. While some people choose to walk or sit in their forest surroundings, others choose to give an Ayurvedic touch to their forest bath and practice yoga in the forest.
1. Boost Immune Function
Forest bathing is definitely on the list of bizarre ways to stop an infection and boost the immune system. A scientific study published in 2010, entitled “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function”, reveals that spending time in nature can significantly stimulate the activity of blood cells. cells called natural killer (NK) cells. This is huge because NK cells help fight viruses and tumor cells.
The study reveals that three days of forest bathing increased subjects’ NK activity, NK cell count, as well as intracellular cancer-fighting protein levels. These positive effects of forest bathing are attributed to phytoncides, which are essentially antimicrobial wood essential oils from trees such as alpha-Pinene and Limonene.
Previous scientific research on human subjects has also shown that exposure to phytoncides can significantly increase NK cell activity, while reducing stress hormone levels and increasing the expression of cancer-fighting proteins. It is not uncommon to find cancer patients taking forest baths, as not only can being in the forest lessen the stress and anxiety associated with cancer.
2. Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is not a condition to ignore. Fortunately, there are many natural ways to control high blood pressure. Shinrin yoku forest bathing has been shown to help lower blood pressure. Researchers who published a study on forest bathing in 2011 already knew that forest environments are known to reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline and produce an overall relaxing effect, but they wanted to know more.
In their small clinical study, these researchers examined how walking in a forest environment affected cardiovascular and metabolic parameters in 16 healthy male subjects. The results were very positive: habitual walking in a forest environment seems to lower blood pressure by decreasing sympathetic nerve activity. Forest bathing also had positive effects on stress hormone levels.
3. Improve Nervous System Health
Forest bathing is also known to have a positive effect on heart rate variability. This effect is very important for the health of the nervous system, because heart rate variability (the variation in the time interval between heartbeats) is an indication of the health of the balance between the sympathetic nervous system ( whose main function is to activate the physiological changes that occur during the fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic system (also called the “rest and digest system” or “recovery system” because it lowers blood pressure and heart rate). Maintaining a balance between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system is key to avoiding a state of constant fight-or-flight stress, and it’s no surprise that forest bathing seems to help maintain this healthy balance of the system. nervous.
4. Reduce stress
Trees are known to infuse the air with compounds that can have very positive effects on human beings. These compounds are called phytoncides and a study published in 2009 found that they can effectively reduce stress hormone levels in both men and women. How to get phytoncides by taking a forest bath? Just breathe the good air of the forest!
5. Boost mental health
Research published in 2015 demonstrates once again that we really cannot forget to spend time outdoors, especially as more and more people live in urban areas and feel disconnected from nature. These days. This study found that participants who took a 90-minute nature walk self-reported “lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to mental illness risk compared to to those who have walked in an urban environment. Nature can be good for mental health. It reduces cognitive fatigue and stress and can be helpful for depression and anxiety. Do you want a mental boost? It might be time to take a bath (without soap or water) in your local forest.
6. Strengthen cognitive functions and be more creative
You probably won’t be surprised (or maybe you are) that spending more time in nature can really boost your creativity. A study by psychologists from the University of Utah and the University of Kansas found that backpackers’ creativity test scores were 50% better after spending four days in nature, disconnected from electronic devices . This study published in 2012 was “the first to document systematic changes in high-level cognitive function associated with immersion in nature.
Being outdoors also gives you the opportunity to practice grounding, a method of connecting to the natural energy of the earth by walking barefoot. Known benefits of grounding include the reduction of free radicals in the body when they come into contact with “free electrons”, whether they come from the earth or from earth-derived foods.
8. Fight seasonal depression
You can fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by spending time outdoors. Researchers believe this disorder may be linked to a lack of sunlight and vitamin D. When you spend time outdoors, you can get more of both of these, and the benefits of vitamin D are important for many many aspects of our health.
9. Breathe clean air
Let’s also not forget that it is very nice to escape indoor air pollution and breathe fresh air outdoors.
How to practice
The steps of forest bathing are quite simple:
Go to a forest
Open all your senses
Basically, forest bathing is spending time among trees and nature, without distractions. You will not disturb anyone, because you will certainly not use technology during your forest bath. The idea is to be very present, not to capture the moment for social media. You are also not trying to reach an end destination as you would on a hike, you are simply in the woods, very present, and taking in everything with your different senses to see the surrounding beauty, to breathe the fresh air, smelling the bark of a nearby tree. The act of forest bathing is certainly somewhat meditative, but there are no strict rules of focus or discipline.
If you are wondering if it is possible to take a forest bath near me, you must ask yourself the following question. You can forest bathe just about anywhere you are surrounded by trees. It can be a small park in a city or a huge national park. Wherever you are, just have the intention to connect with nature in a healing way.