A walk in the woods is often lovely, and good exercise, but did you know it can boost your health in many other ways? That’s why the Asian trend of “forest bathing” is a health practice now enjoyed all over the world.
The concept of forest bathing began in Japan, where it’s called shin-rin yoku. The word actually means “making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest.” The word was coined by a Japanese government agency in the 1980s. The practice is so popular in parts of Asia, and seen as so beneficial to well-being, that the national health services in both Japan and South Korea prescribe it on their websites.
Forest Bathing Effects
Most of us don’t need science to understand that a good walk in the woods usually makes us feel better and lifts our spirits. However, there have been several scientific studies to measure how and why time in the forest improves our health. Research shows that forest bathing decreases anxiety and depression, increases parasympathetic nervous system activity while decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity, and lowers blood pressure as well as cortisol levels.
Also, forest air is infused with phytoncides from the aromatic oils of the trees. These are shown to increase the activity of white blood cells that thwart infections. You can follow new discoveries about shin-rin yoku at The Forest Bathing Institute, a UK organization that promotes and posts new research and developments.
Nature Deficit Disorder
As a species, our need to connect with nature is so strong that the lack of time in nature creates behavioral changes in children. Without time in nature, kids are shown to have higher levels of aggression, poorer academic performance, increased rates of obesity and depression, as well as a lower sense of well-being and lower ability to cope with stress. It’s called Nature Deficit Disorder. While less data is available for NDD in adults, does the description of its symptoms sound familiar to your own experience? Maybe it’s time for more “vitamin N” – nature! And what better more straightforward way to do it than by forest bathing?
Exertion Not Required
While exercise outdoors is great, and jogging through the forest is wonderful, you can still get the health benefits of forest bathing by just lingering in the woods and relaxing. You’re still forest bathing when you amble aimlessly and pause to take photos, or if you bring your journal, sketchbook, or a snack to the woods and sit under a tree.
Do you have a meditation practice? Or do you enjoy yoga or tai chi? Bring your cushion, mat, or taichi shoes and try it in the woods! Do you want an even deeper connection to the woods? Go ahead and hug a tree, or take off your shoes and feel the forest floor under your feet.
Can’t Get to the Woods?
Sometimes it’s hard to get away from work and responsibilities and escape to the forest. What can you do? We have some ideas. Although none of these measures will fully substitute for the benefits of real-time in the woods, they may help create a relaxing, less stressful atmosphere. They may even help you psychologically feel more connected to nature by bringing a bit of the forest to you!
- Look around and see if you can incorporate a new tree or two in your yard, or perhaps a small potted tree in your apartment. If you do have a few trees nearby, pull up a lawn chair and read a book under the branches.
- Local parks, even in the city, are great if you can’t get out to a larger forested area. Many parks in large cities even have wifi now. Take your coffee or your workday lunch to the park instead of the café. You can take off your shoes so your toes can feel the grass, or sit under a tree and watch the birds. And if you’re really stuck indoors…
- Choose one or two woodsy essential oils like cedar or pine and add them to your bath
- Find a YouTube video with forest images and ambient forest sounds to play in the background while you work.
You’re “Nature” Too!
Even though we often live so separate from nature, a walk in the woods helps us remember that as living, breathing beings, we’re just as much a part of the nature on our planet as every other plant and animal. We see our place in the scheme of things more realistically.
Also, when we walk in the forest, the benefit goes both ways. Once we realize how healing nature is for us, we’re more likely to do our part to protect and heal nature in return.
What are you waiting for? The forest is calling you!
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.