Forest bathing | natures 5 natural benefits
10 minute read
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing is a form of ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy. Forest bathing is a technique that has been scientifically proven to improve someone’s physiological health and psychological well-being, which is done by someone immersing themselves in the dense forests of nature.
Throughout human history, people have spent most of their time living amongst the wilderness and only recently have we begun to spend more time indoors. We’re surrounded by more technology than humans have ever been before, with every part of our life’s relying on technology. Using your laptop for work and your phone for the time in between, we’ve lost our connection to the real world. Technology isn’t all bad and more than often, it offers more opportunities to people than they would have without it but, there definitely needs to be a balance found.
Japan is a country that has deep roots in Shintoism and Buddhism, where monks, shrines and temples share the same land as the tree’s, wildlife and fresh air. Although these religions are still the most popular in the country, the lifestyle and way of life for most of the Japanese people has drastically changed.
In the 1980’s Japan had a technology boom, where people were spending all their time surrounded by four walls, with their eyes glued to their computer screens and although this would have been great for the economy, this was very detrimental to the physical and mental health of the Japanese people.
With economic success, you’ll often find higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress leading to burnout, along with some other serious ailments so, the Japanese government wanted to put a stop to these problems.
Researchers began to investigate the healing benefits of nature and shortly after doctor’s began to prescribe the Japanese people with shinrin’yoku, (shinrin) meaning forest and (yoku) meaning bath and this is where the term forest bathing was born.
The benefits of forest bathing
There are a wide range of mental and physical health benefits to Shirin yoku, from improved mood and maybe even a way of fighting cancer. The benefits of forest bathing can be used as both preventative medicine but also, a way of helping people who are already suffering from certain illnesses to get better.
Being outdoors and being active has long been known to be beneficial for our health and well-being because of the things like exercise and vitamin D, however, forest bathing seems to have an added effect on keeping you healthy. We’ll now summarize these 5 benefits of forest bathing:
- Immune boosting
- Stress reduction
- Improves creativity and focus
- Heart health
- Mood boosting
One study in Japan made people walk around a dense forest area for 2 hours a day, 3 days in a row, to try and figure out how shinrin yoku effects the immune system. The study found that the people who were studied had higher NK cells (natural killer) cells in their body after their walk, which lasted up to 30 days. people with these white blood cells, that help to improve the immune system, are less likely to have cancer.
So, what is it that forest bathing might help fight the battle against cancer? Well, to protect themselves from the wildlife, trees emit a chemical called phytoncides and as we bathe in the forest and inhale them like an essential oil, they enhance the activity of NK cells and may help us to prevent diseases such as cancer.
In Italy researchers did a meta analysis on studies concerning the effect of forest bathing on stress, meaning that they reviewed other studies on the relationship between Shirin yoku and stress. Focusing on the stress hormone cortisol, They found that nearly all studies showed a significantly lower level of cortisol amongst the participants, even compared with people who walked through an urban area, showing that the results wasn't from exercise. Not only do people in these studies show biological improvements but, they also share that they feel a lot calmer and less stressed.
Stress is one of the most damaging ailments that people encounter on a daily basis and over a long period of time, this can wreak havoc on your mind and body. So, just by spending some time within your work break with nature, you could reduce your ever building stress.
Creativity and focus
The front of your brain known as the prefrontal cortex, is responsible critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, strategic planning and impulse control along with many other important factors of life. Overtime, this part of your brain can begin to tire and fatigue from over usage, such as multi-tasking and by working for too long, but just like a muscle, when rested properly, this part of the brain can be recharged and restored to it’s normal function.
A study from a professor who works at the university of Utah, involved participants walking around an arboretum and recorded their brain activity with an EEG (Electroencephalography) machine, before and after their walk. One group of participants were not allowed to use their phone and the other group were told to get in contact with a friend or family member, the research found that the people’s brains who did not use the phone were able to rest, where as the other groups brain activity was higher, even 20 minutes after the walk when the second EEG test was carried out.
Another study from the same researcher found that participants who spent three days in the wilderness without any technology saw a 50% improvement in creative problem solving.
A study in Tokyo Japan, investigated the effects of both walking in a forest environment for 2 hours in the morning and afternoon and walking in an urban environment for 2 hours in the morning and afternoon, on the metabolism and cardiovascular health of the participants.
They found that the forest bathers had significantly higher amounts of serum adiponectin which is a hormone that in low amounts is associated with health disorders such as obesity, which contributes to heart disease. They also found a significantly reduced blood pressure in those that went on the forest trip. Some research shows that forest bathing could be just as effective as blood pressure medicine and it's totally free!
Forest therapy reduces the score of anxiety, depression, anger fatigue and confusion whilst increasing the score of vigor (energy and enthusiasm). Being in nature is well known to improve people's positive feelings and well-being, even pictures of greenery has been seen to help lower levels of stress.
A study from the university of derby tried to replicate some of the studies on shinrin yoku from Japan to England, to see if there was any cultural differences that could explain why forest bathing improves mood, this study along with many other studies from around the world found that connecting to nature is linked to happiness and mental-wellbeing. The study from derby University found that forest bathing significantly improved feelings of safety, relaxedness and compassion.
Now that you have learnt the amazing benefits of forest bathing, you’ll probably want to know how to do it yourself! Below you’ll find the steps on creating your own shinrin yoku.
How to do forest bathing
Shirin yoku is fairly simple and you can put in as much effort as you want to. You can do it with a group, teacher or by yourself. To successfully forest bathe according to the Japanese tradition, you need to connect with nature and you do this by using all 5 of your senses. Below we have created a step by step guide on how to do shinrin yoku.
Step 1. Before you start, you need to choose a location on where you want to go. If you’re doing this on your own and don’t have anywhere in mind, all it takes is a quick Google search for “forest bathing sites near me.”
Step 2. Once you’ve arrived, you should turn off all technology that you bought with you and even better leave your technology at home.
Step 3. A huge part of shirin yoku is being mindful, a great way to do this is by taking long and deep breaths to calm your mind and body, you could even do some meditation for an added benefit.
Step 4. You can sit, stand or walk but, there is no need to rush. You should be mindful of what is going on around you.
Step 5. As you explore through the forest, you should be using all of your senses to connect with the nature around you. Feel the shapes of the trees and the ground you walk on, listen to the birds chirping and the wind whistling, smell the freshly cut grass and inhale the trees aroma, look at the brightly colored flowers and the insects whilst drinking some herbal tea.
If you would like to learn more about how you can benefit from nature, we strongly advise you to buy the book “Shirin yoku: The art and science of forest bathing” from Amazon.
This book will teach you everything you need to know about forest bathing and who better to learn from than the author Dr Qing Li, who is a leading expert in shinrin yoku and has researched the benefits for many years, in fact, some of the studies in this blog post was made by Qing Li himself!
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The content in this article is not meant as a substitute for professional medical advice and should only be used for informational purposes. If you are trying to improve your health and well-being, we advise that you seek the help from a professional.
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