Let’s Wake Up And Smell The Trees

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We live in such a fast-paced world today it can often feel like we are being pulled in many different directions at once! Feeling overwhelmed and stressed from being too busy has become a way of life for many of us. However, if we cannot manage our stress and it becomes too intense it can take a toll on our mental and physical health. Of course, there are many different ways to manage stress and keep both our mind and body healthy. One way to escape the pressure and demands of modern life is to regularly practice ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin-yoku (the original term in Japanese). It’s a great (and an easy) way to unwind and relax, plus it doesn’t cost you anything (yup, it’s free). Don’t be misled by the wording; forest bathing is not about stripping down and jumping into a lake (or any other waterway for that matter) in a forest setting. It’s about spending time in a green space while also being fully immersed in it.

Forest bathing is defined as, “gentle walks that support well-being through sensory immersion in forests and other naturally healing environments,” which you can find on the website dedicated to this practice. Yes, it’s about walking – usually in a forest – and taking in the environment, slowly and purposefully.

It sounds rather relaxing doesn’t it? And no, it’s not hiking, where you trek a certain trail at a brisk pace. Forest bathing is not meant to be a workout either. It’s more of a slow, languid walk where you take in the atmosphere and even stop to just reflect along the way. Sounds kind of dreamy too doesn’t it? It might even bring out the inner child in each of us! So, imagine this:

You are wandering off into the wilderness without a care in the world. You sit down on a thick fallen log to listen to the birds chirping to one another and the gentle rustling of leaves. You take deep breaths to inhale the crisp air and let it fill your lungs. You exhale slowly. You are aware of each breath you take. It rained the night before, causing a tangy earthy smell to permeate the air you breathe. You have the urge to hug a tree and feel the texture of its bark. Everything around you seems fresh and alive, and you are living in the moment.

In this setting, you just take it all in, however way you want!

Photo credit: https://www.care2.com/greenliving/why-a-walk-in-the-woods-is-vital-for-your-health-the-science-behind-forest-bathing.html

Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) was officially coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982 and has become common practice in Japan. Of course, the rest of the planet soon caught on to it, and forest bathing tours are practiced today with the aim to spread its benefits. Many studies have also been conducted proving that it’s good for our health and can even boost our immunity.

Forest bathing has been proven to improve immunity by enhancing something known as natural killer cells (NK). “NK cells, which are associated with the immune system and cancer prevention, play a major role in the host rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells.”   Researchers in Japan found that those who spend just a day in the forest have more NK cells in their blood for seven days thereafter. Those that stay for several days will have more NK in their blood for at least a month! This means even if we don’t live near a green space, we can make regular visits to verdant areas and reap the benefits; just breathing and being in the presence of trees is beneficial. You can read more about the fascinating findings of this study that correlates the increase of NK cells to forest bathing here.

Another study by Stanford University researchers found that “people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.” You can read more about it here.

In addition to reducing depression and boosting the immune system functioning (with an increase in NK cells), as mentioned in the studies above, Shinrin-yoku has also been scientifically proven to achieve the following (you can also read about it here):

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve mood
  • Increase ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerate recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increase energy level
  • Improve sleep

Those who regularly practice Shinrin-yoku also find that it helps them achieve the following:

  • Deeper and clearer intuition
  • Increased flow of energy
  • Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species
  • Increased flow of eros/life force
  • Deepening of friendships
  • Overall increase in sense of happiness

In recent decades, an increasing number of people – often in search of employment and better education – have been relocating to urban cities and leaving the rural areas. Of course, the price to pay to live in urban city centers is less accessibility to green spaces. However, many different studies conducted over the years have been able to demonstrate that even a small amount of time in nature can have a positive impact on our health. We need to make it a point to go to green spaces if they are not at our doorstep. We can schedule some time to go there (and no, it doesn’t have to be an enchanted forest). We can even go to public parks, botanical gardens or to our own backyard and practice forest bathing. You can do it rain or shine and anytime of the year! You can do this on your own, with friends or with your kids in tow. You may even find guided forest bathing tours offered near you.

Photo credit: https://inhabitat.com/9-things-you-can-do-to-help-wild-birds-this-summer/

If you want to try forest bathing for the first time, we found a rather useful checklist to share with you that has been previously put together by this website:

  • Identify a forested area and plan to give yourself at least two hours there.
  • Wear hiking or walking shoes, a cap or hat to protect you from weather or bugs, bug spray and outdoor wear that is loose fitting and comfortable.
  • Don’t bring your electronics, e.g., cell phone and camera (or switch off your phone if you keep it with you).
  • Experience your surroundings at a leisurely place, taking in the forest through your five senses by tasting, touching, smelling, listening and observing. Notice the different colors and shades of leaves that you encounter. Take some slow deep breaths to center yourself as you begin. Touch a tree or a stone, and notice the different textures. Listen for different types of sounds, such as birdsong or the wind in the treetops. Imagine that you can taste the air. Feel its qualities on your skin.
  • Find a spot to sit for a few minutes, perhaps on a tree stump or a rock or soft  meadow, to take in some deep breathes or meditate.

Well that’s a wrap, folks! Hope reading this will inspire you to go out and mingle with nature. And now with the onset of winter, the fresh cooler weather makes it ideal to take long nature walks and to experience the outdoors. Keep calm and enjoy your forest bathing time!

References:

First picture credit: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-40608179

http://www.shinrin-yoku.org

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-science-of-forest-bathing

http://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/

Alia Fawaz is a writer, activist, life-enthusiast and a mother of three. She was raised in Japan and spent most of her adult years between Europe and the Middle East. She has written extensively on a range of topics covering the environment, renewable energy sources and social entrepreneurship for different publications, since taking up writing full time eight years ago.

A storyteller by heart, she also loves to bring out the personal narratives of remarkable individuals who do good deeds through their endeavors. She loves to connect with nature through hiking, which has become her favorite form of therapy. She looks forward to connecting with other like and open-minded people who promote inclusion, love diversity, and appreciate the simple things in life.

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