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Forest Bathing – ‘Shinrin Yoku’
Forest Bathing – ‘Shinrin Yoku’
By Jade Ellis
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” - John Muir
is a term that means "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." This idea was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a very important part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
Nature appreciation has always been of high importance in Japan, seen as a national pastime. Including picnicking in large groups under the cherry blossoms. Forest bathing quickly gained popularity. It is simply about being in nature, a relaxing experience in which you do nothing. The point is to relax rather than having to accomplish anything. The Japanese practice of forest bathing has proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system and improve your overall sense of wellbeing.
It is quite a simple idea that if a person visits a natural areas and walks in a relaxing way, that they will feel calm and rejuvenated. This is something which we have always thought we have known, but in past decades there have been many studies that look behind the healing effects of being in nature.
‘NK’ (Natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system's way of fighting cancer. Trees give off organic compounds that support our immune system. There are scientifically proven benefits of Forest Bathing. These include reduced stress, a higher functioning immune system, reduced blood pressure, improved mood, improved sleep, increased energy levels, increased ability to focus, even with ADHD sufferers and accelerated recovery from illness or surgery.
There have been numerous studies done by Japanese officials. One in particular studied the physiological and psychological on forest bathing. They designated 48 therapy trails based on the results. The study measured the NK cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. The study showed a great increase in NK cell activity the week after a forest visit. These beneficial effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.
Phytonicide is an essential oil which is found in plans, woods, and fruits and vegetables which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. Inhaling this oil seems to improve the functioning of our immune system. Other research finds that a physical 40-minute walk in the forest was associated with moods and feelings of health and euphoria. The stress hormone cortisol is also seen to decrease after a walk in the forest. Time in nature can also benefit our mental clarity and improve our moods rapidly.
The forest environment can be viewed as a therapeutic landscape. People in the city can benefit immensely from the effects of trees with just a visit to the park. In a world where we spend our days so wrapped up in technology and looking at the latest post on Instagram, it is almost therapeutic in itself to take a break from our screens, and become immersed in nature, with nothing to look at but trees and the path in front of us for a while. Shinrin Yoku continues to spread and perhaps this a backlash against modern society’s obsession with indoor-use technology and office culture.
Shinrin-yoku, has proven particularly popular in California, which echoes the adoption of other east-to west health trends, such as yoga and meditation. Similar to these activities, forest bathing can be a guided, paid for experience or freely performed solo. Those that practice Shinrin-Yoku explain that it differs from hiking, as it is centres on the therapeutic aspects of forest bathing. Forest Bathing is not about reaching a destination, it is about slowing down and appreciating the little things around you.