Forest Bathing: Our Need for Nature

Naturalist John Muir once wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” While his wise words predate the practice, he seemed to be foretelling our human need for nature and the recent trend called “Forest Bathing.”

The idea is a simple one – if you visit a natural space and take a relaxed walk there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits for your overall health. The term Japanese term Shinrin-yoku means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” and it was developed in the 80s as a cornerstone of healing and prevention. There is a growing body of research from South Korea and Japan on the health benefits of spending time in a living forest.

Many of us who work in offices or cubicles, and live our lives primarily indoors. Our only outdoor time may be lunch or the walk to our transportation to commute home. In a survey sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2001), Americans were found to spend 87% of our lives indoors and 6% in vehicles. It took us thousands of years to go from living in nature to being a primarily indoor species. And that hasn’t been for the better.

While this may sound both intuitive and a little “hippie dippy” it is evidence-based, and enjoying new practitioners in the U.S. much the way yoga and meditation caught on years ago. There are many studies that demonstrate the health benefits of just being in natural areas. Trees, for example, give off organic compounds that support our natural killer (NK) cells. These cells are part of our body’s cancer fighting immune system.

The benefits of Shinrin-yoku that are scientifically-proven are:

Boosted immune system/increased NK cells

-Lower blood pressure

-Less stress

-Improved mood

-Ability to focus (this is true of children with ADHD diagnosis as well)

-Faster recovery from illness or surgery

-Increase in energy

-Better sleep

Some of the research points to phytoncides – antimicrobial compounds given off by plants – as part of health picture. Known as the “aroma of the forest”, these substances appear vital in helping us to relax. In South Korea and Japan, the Shinrin-yoku trails are certified, and forest therapy is part of their health care system and covered by insurance.

People who practice Shinrin-yoku emphasize that this is not simply a nature walk filled with informative facts, or a hike designed to reach a destination. A Shinrin-yoku walk gives people a chance to slow things down and appreciate what you can only experience by slowing down. It is about breaking out of the day-to-day stress of our lives. Or as our mindfulness gurus tell us – being fully present.

People who participate in a regular practice say that there are other more benefits that science can’t measure: deeper intuition; an increased sense of happiness and wellbeing; more energy flow; better communication; and stronger friendships. Who wouldn’t want any of those?

Find some time over the upcoming holiday weekend to get outdoors and experience the power of nature in your life. Do you already have a routine for spending time outside, embracing nature? Tell us about it on our Facebook page! Or, do you know someone who has a story about the healing effects of nature? Share it with us!




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