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  • Rob Elgar

Japanese Forest Bathing - Nature is the Medicine that You Need

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

The smell of fresh air, the sound of birds, and the gentle rustling of the leaves high up in the tree canopies. We all know how good it feels to be in nature.

Anyone who has spent time in nature will speak about a relaxing, connected, and stress-free feeling that they experience.

It is being noticed now more than ever how important it is to stop and smell the flowers. With our busy bustling cities and non-stop lifestyles.

Although we are only now noticing the benefits of immersing ourselves in the great outdoors, this has been practiced as a way of healing for a time long before now.

This is the practice of Japanese forest bathing.

Learn how nature therapy can heal you and help reduce the stress levels in your life.

Where does forest bathing come from?

Remember how I mentioned above how we live these crazy non-stop lives where production is everything and health comes second?

This is not a new situation and was looked at very cautiously in Japan in the 1980s during the massive tech boom.

Shinrin Yoku, which means Forest-bath in Japanese was first noticed during this time and implemented with the goal of reducing psychological and physical burnout from overstimulation.

Although forest bath is a more direct translation, the definition of forest bathing could be better described as - taking in the atmosphere of the forest.

This form of eco therapy was quickly embraced by Japan.

Somewhere in the 1990s, researchers started looking further into the psychological benefits of nature therapy.

National Geographic has a wonderful article that highlights the benefits of forest bathing called"This is your brain on nature" where it speaks more about these psychological effects.

Although the term shinrin yoku was originated in Japan, there are countless societies that have recognized the benefits of immersing ourselves in nature and taking a break both physically and mentally.

What is Shinrin yoku and how can you take a forest bath?

Shinrin yoku is not just hiking through a forest. When we hike we have a set path and a destination as a goal.

When we bathe in the forest there is no goal other than to relax and be a part of what is happening around us.

We walk slowly and pay attention to each breath, each footstep, and every sound. This form of eco therapy is more of a meditation than a hike.

It is an opportunity to reconnect ourselves with the natural flow of nature. To stop and to slow down from our busy lives.

Ultimately the goal of forest bathing is to see things how they really are. This is a commonly known meditation practice called Vipassana.

Forget everything that is outside of the forest. All that exists now is you and nature. Think of this as a meditative therapy where instead of sitting still you get to fully experience everything that is happening around you.

You will be surprised by the things you notice, both internal and external.

What are the benefits of forest bathing

As mentioned before, we are all familiar with the "good feelings" that are associated with being around plants, under the sun, or looking over a beautiful landscape.

But how exactly does eco therapy help us and what are the benefits of forest bathing?

  1. Reduce stress levels.

  2. Boosts your immune system.

  3. Enhances creativity.

  4. Boosts your mood.

  5. Reduces blood pressure.

  6. Reduces illness recovery time.

Reduce stress levels

Stress is directly related to ailments such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, and arthritis.

As little as 40 minutes of exercise in the form of a short walk has been shown to drastically reduce the stress hormone cortisol when done in a forest-like condition.

Taking a weekly forest bath correlates with a lower heart rate and increased intestinal gland activity. This is the opposite of what happens to your body when it is releasing too much cortisol.

According to nature and forest therapy, leisurely forest walks, compared with urban walks, show a:

  • 12.4% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.

  • 7% decrease in sympathetic nerve activity.

  • 1.4% decrease in blood pressure.

  • 5.8% decrease in heart rate.

These numbers are significant when looking at the small amount of effort it takes to find results.

Talk about low-cost medical bills!

Boost the immune system

Stress hormones compromise our immune system. The production of frontline defenders in our bodies is reduced when we experience an increase in stress levels.

Because being in nature decreases stress hormones, it is clear to see how it will benefit our immune system

There are further studies that suggest nature therapy could help in the fight against cancer.

In a three-day research trip, Dr. Li found that in 13 females there was an increase in anti-cancer proteins that lasted up to 7 days after the trip had ended.

There is still more research needed on this topic but so far it is looking promising.

Tree medicine: Phytoncides

Phytoncides or commonly known as "the aroma of the forest" is a chemical that is produced by plants and trees to protect them from harmful insects and germs.

If we tried to translate the term directly it would look something like "exterminated by the plant".

Phytoncides have been found to, not only protect plants and trees but to increase the number of frontline immune cells in humans.

When we spend time in the forests we breathe in these chemicals and benefit from them the same way that nature around us does.

Enhances creativity

Nature has always been know to increase creativity. Artists have used the benefits of the natural environment for periods back as long as we can track.

We have all heard of the term "writer's block". It is a common practice for artists to spend time in nature to inspire them.

Whether the artist is an author, painter, or musician, this technique is a common trend.

A paper published in 2012 by David L. Strayer found that there was a 50% increase in creativity and problem-solving tasks given to 56 naive hikers.

The increase was shown after only four days away from technology and fully immersed in nature.

Whether you have writer's block or are simply looking for more inspiration, the benefits of stepping away from your current situation and moving towards something simpler like nature are undeniable.

Boosts your mood

A study conducted by the University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts found that spending time in nature is directly linked to mental health and well being.

The meta study can be found in the Plus One journal under the 30 Days Wild study.

When in nature our bodies release chemicals that are directly related to our mental states.

These "feel good" chemicals include endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.

Can anyone say natural high?

Lowers blood pressure

Heart attacks are a major killer around the world. These can be seen in large numbers when stressful environments are mixed with overstimulated lives, low physical activity, and unhealthy diets.

As being in nature reduces our stress levels, there is a direct link to a reduction in high blood pressure.

A study including 732 participants over 20 trials showed that "Systolic blood pressure of the forest environment was significantly lower than that of the non-forest environment".

The study also found that "diastolic blood pressure of the forest environment was significantly lower than that of the non-forest environment".

Beyond the study, physical activity alone is a great aid in keeping the body healthy.

Although shinrin yoku does not include intense exercise, the mere idea that you are moving around instead of sitting at a desk is an absolute benefit.

Reduces recovery time from illnesses

The natural world can act as an amazing catalyst when healing the body (and mind).

The renowned architect specializing in healthcare building design, Dr. Roger Ulrich showed in a well known study that even a window with a natural view can reduce recovery time when compared to a view of a city landscape.

This study not only found that patients with views of trees recovered faster, but also reported that patients with views of a brick wall were more likely to be found crying, upset, and uninspired.

How to practice forest bathing

So now that you know about the benefits of nature and want to get started with your own eco therapy practices I am sure you are wondering where to start.

Source: Away with the faries, hogsback South Africa

Here are 7 steps on how you can practice forest bathing:

  1. Leave all your intentions, ambitions, worries, and stress at home. There is no goal with shinrin yoku, only the idea that you will be present.

  2. Leave behind your phone, watch, camera, and anything else that could distract you or connect you to the world outside the woods.

  3. When you arrive at the forest, take a deep breath, and smell the air. Take a moment to touch the ground, feel a tree, and listen to the wind and the birds.

  4. Will walking, allow your mind to wonder. Don't fight your thoughts. Just pay attention to where they go to and bring your consciousness back to the present. Stop when you realize that your mind has wandered too far and taken a moment to smell, listen, and feel what is around you.

  5. Find somewhere to stop and sit for a while. Forgetting the path and route for a while. Watch how the leaves move in the wind and how all the animals work together in a flowing almost synchronistic flow.

  6. When you feel anxious and need to move, sit through that feeling. Notice it and allow it to pass on. Only continue moving in a time that you are equally happy to stay.

  7. If you go with others, make an agreement to be silent through the journey, and when finding a seated spot find your own space where you are comfortable and alone.

What happens if you don't live close to a forest?

If you don't live near a forest this is not a problem.

Although the term is "Japanese forest bathing" you neither need to be Japanese or to be in a forest.

As the pure essence of this practice is to be conscious and to reconnect with nature it can be done just about anywhere.

A walk on the beach, a stroll next to a river or even sitting in your permaculture garden and observing the interconnectedness that the elements of the land create can serve the same purpose.

Remember the idea is to relax and forget the outside world problems.

If you are conscious, you are meditating, and if you are in nature you will reap the benefits that the Earth provides.

In conclusion

There is an absolutely amazing book called Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. If you are interested in nature healing and the benefits that eco therapy can do for you and others I highly recommend reading it.

Although this is a practice that originated in Japan, the reality is that in this modern world we need it more than ever.

We need to take time away from the productive and over consuming lifestyles that we live and embrace the natural world.

Take a moment and spend some time in nature. You will be better off for it.

Leave a comment below to tell me about your own experiences in nature, and don't forget to subscribe for free updates and news on sustainable living.

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