“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir
Imagine walking through a forest - the soil hugs the soles of your feet, birds chirp in the distance, and the smells of moss and morning dew fill your nostrils. Sounds nice, right? Turns out, there's a science to it.
In the past decade, sentiments of the importance of spending time outside have been growing. Practices of connecting with nature (dubbed ‘alternative’ medicine or practice) have become a topic widely talked about, especially in the face of a society that gets more screen time than time outdoors.
Time spent outside has always traditionally been understood to correlate with physical endurance, health, and even mental balance. But lately, the connection between the two has been garnering more attention from scientists and the public alike.
Shinrin-Yoku, translated literally from Japanese as 'Forest Bathing,' is one way that encourages people to go and absorb the experience of the forest around them.
In 1982, the Japanese government’s Forest Agency implemented Shinrin-Yoku to encourage people to spend more time in nature. The idea has been widely successful – Japan is now home to 44 Shinrin-Yoku accredited forests. But the idea has spread globally, too. A vast amount of studies have been done to further examine the effects of spending time practicing ‘Forest Bathing’.
What Is Shinrin-Yoku? Shinrin-Yoku is more than spending time outdoors – the delicacy of the experience is almost an art form. Instead of concentrating on any kind of strenuous or vigorous outdoor activity, the idea is to slowly wander through a heavily forested or green area. Studies have shown that the positive effects of Shinrin-Yoku are measureable in as little as 15 minutes! Regular, longer practices can contribute to an overall stronger sense of well-being.
Why Should I Try Shinrin-Yoku? Shinrin-Yoku is more than just relaxing – it impacts both your physical and mental well being in two main ways. First, the entire experience engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation (physically and mentally) - your heart slows, blood pressure drops, and worries don’t seem so daunting. A second way that Shinrin-Yoku is said to be so effective is because of the organisms released by trees in a forested area (particularly evergreen trees): phytoncides. These organisms are linked to dramatic effects on physical health, particularly by promoting the immune system and the production of cancer-fighting cells. In fact, studies have shown that women who spent 2-4 hours practicing Shinrin-Yoku experienced elevated levels of cancer-fighting cells of up to 40%.
Other noted health effects of ‘Forest Bathing’ include:
- Promoted sense of happiness and well being
- Reduced stress
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved mental clarity and concentration
- Increased recovery from illness or surgery
- Increased energy levels
- A more profound connection with one’s intuition
- Deepening of relationships
- Improved sleep
- Decreased anxiety
How Can I Practice Shinrin-Yoku? Start off in a forested area – the denser and more lush, the better. Go slowly - again, this isn’t a strenuous hike, but an experience to wander in the woods. It is recommended that you do not travel more than one mile per hour that you practice this bathing technique. Go where your mind, body, or soul leads you. Sit on the ground, breathe the fresh forest air, and use your sense to really experience the nature around you. If you go with friends, go with the understanding that you will all have your individual experiences – minimize conversation and leave cellphones in your pockets. This is the time to absorb your surroundings with all of your senses, relax, and appreciate the nature around you.
Photo Credit: Connor Horenn
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