Forest Bathing: Not What You’re Thinking
How much time do you spend indoors? Chances are you spend 90 percent of your time inside according to an EPA study. Air pollutants are not just outside; they are also indoors, which can affect health. Beyond air pollutants, spending so much time indoors may affect mental health and quality of life because it separates us from nature. And research shows being in the woods has health benefits.
Forest bathing is a straightforward concept: Spend quality time in nature with flora and fauna. By immersing yourself in nature through the use of all your senses, you gain many health benefits.
Japanese studies show that there is a direct correlation to being out in nature and positive physical changes in the body. It was common for our ancestors to be outdoors. Being out in Mother Nature is the backbone of human history. Only recently, have we removed ourselves from nature and went inside thereby denying ourselves something that once nurtured and helped to sustain humans.
Forest bathing, “Shinrin-yoku” began in Japan in the early 1980s after positive results from a government study on the benefits of being in the forest. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with high-stress levels; they also have large sects of forest. The findings went beyond the typical benefits of being outdoors for exercise. So, impressed with the results, Forest Bathing became the foundation of Japan’s national preventative health awareness program.
Tree Bathing Benefits
Trees and other plants release compounds into the air that we breathe in when out in nature. Researchers found that these plant chemicals affect the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. When engaged, the parasympathetic nervous system reduces heart rate, aids in digestion, and relaxes the body. In particular, essential oil tree compounds, phytoncides were studied.
“The scientific data confirming the mental, emotional, and biophysical benefits of forest bathing are most exciting and validating to me as an integrative physician…,’
Phillip Barr, MD, Duke Integrative Medicine.”[i]
Phytoncide compounds are anti-microbial, antifungal, and reduce the stress hormone, cortisol. Japanese researchers also found phytoncides boosted natural killer (NK) cell activity. Natural killer cells in the simplest terms are immune white blood cells that respond quickly to viral infections and cancer tumors. Scents, such as cedar and pine have the highest amounts of phytoncides.
- Improves sleep
- Increases energy
- Lowers stress (Stress inhibits the body’s immune response.)
- Enhances mood (Decreases anxiety, depression, and anger.)
- Reduces blood pressure
- Hastens surgery and illness recovery
- Reduces symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
No Equipment Needed
You don’t need specialized equipment or even a teacher although there are guides that lead individuals and groups into the art of forest bathing. Tree bathing only requires you to be with nature through looking, touching, and listening. Forest bathing can include:
- Ambling, being quiet, and observing
- Sitting and doing nothing, just be with nature
- Inhaling the scents
- Feeling the earth underneath your feet, maybe taking off your shoes (Be careful not to step on poison ivy or oak).
- Hug a tree. Touch the bark of a tree or a leaf.
- Close your eyes and listen to the sounds.
- Look up at the tree canopy.
- The forest also has edibles. But, eating forest food is best done under the supervision of a trained guide. Some berries and other plants are poisonous.
To get the benefits, you don’t even need to go into the wilderness. Spending time in local community parks and green spaces provide health benefits. But, Forest Bathing is not the use of nature as a prop to run, bike, or other outdoor activity. It’s also not the same as a nature walk. Although, any time spent in nature is beneficial.
Humans have a primal need to be in nature. Absorbing the rhythms of nature through smell, touch, sight, and taste is a tune-up for the human spirit with healthy consequences. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort; even a few minutes a day in a park or a garden can be beneficial.
[i] Shinrin yoku mean Forest Bathing. Web.
Aubrey, Allison. Forest Bathing: A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/17/536676954/forest-bathing-a-retreat-to-nature-can-boost-immunity-and-mood.
Gleiser, Marcelo. Suffering From Nature Deficit Disorder? Try Forest Bathing (April 4, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2018/04/04/599135342/suffering-from-nature-deficit-disorder-try-forest-bathing.
Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health. Retrieved from http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html.
Li, Q, et al. Effect of Phytoncide from Trees on Human Natural Killer Cell Function (October 1, 2009). Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/039463200902200410.
Li, Q., et al. Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16873099.
Natural killer cell. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_killer_cell.
O’Connor, Joanne. Trees of life: forest bathing blossoms in Britain (May 06, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/may/06/japanese-art-of-forest-bathing-comes-to-england-holidays.
Shinrin yoku mean Forest Bathing. Retrieved from http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html.