19 Jul Forest Bathing: A healthy, New Trend
Have you ever taken a walk in the woods and noticed the canopy of leaves arching over you majestically? Witnessed the leaves changing colours with the season? Seen the sun penetrate through the leaves. Listened to gently flowing water? If so, you know that this can have a huge impact on how you feel.
Based on the Japanese practice of Shirin-yoku, Forest bathing is the health practice of spending time in or near nature.
The sounds, smell, touch and sights of nature can dissolve stress and improve your mood, evoking a feeling of happiness quickly.
These feelings happiness and calm are mirrored by positive physiological changes, which include:
- Improved mood
- Improved immune function
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar
- Slower heart rate
- Lower cortisol levels, epinephrine and norepinephrine (stress hormones)
- Longer and deeper sleep cycles (and by extension, healthier hormone levels)
- Increased sympathetic nervous system activity
“Biophilia is the scientific and spiritual exploration of the healing bond between humans and nature” (Biophilia, by Clemens G Arvay)
In our modern “adult” world, it’s not uncommon for people to forget how to get into nature and know what to do. Probably the most delightful part of forest bathing is that the only thing you have to plan is time and where you will go. Once you arrive, you should have no “plan”.
Petrichor: the smell of nature after rain.
The concept is to just be. Is there a smell in the air? is it rain? worms? moss? what do you see? birds, animals, leaves floating in the wind or curling on themselves? What do you hear? Is there a light rain, a gentle breeze or a babbling brook nearby?
Komorebi: When the sunlight permeates through the leaves.
Psithorism: The sound that is made when wind rustles the leaves
You can just sit or walk aimlessly. You can draw, journal or do nothing at all. According to a study in England, It’s believed that 2 hours of “being” in nature may be a health recommendation, along with 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables and 150 minutes/week of exercise.
Knowing that being in nature can improve your health, you may want to incorporate it into daily activities or your leisure time. You can spend hours in nature doing:
- Checking out plants
- Bird watching, animal/insect spotting
- Camping/gathering kindling
- Picking berries/apples and pears
- Digging / planting / harvesting
- Cloud watching
- Star gazing
- Earthing / Grounding
Not only is the fresh air and oxygen made by the trees important for your health, but a bacteria in the soil, called Mycobacterium vaccae has created a lot of hype in the microbiology world. And rightly so! Once inhaled, ingested or touching the skin, this bacteria triggers an increase in cytokine levels (immune cells). This part of the immune system is tightly linked to the neurological system and increases serotonin production, your “feel good” neurotransmitter. It’s believed that these “happy feelings” can last as long as a few weeks after exposure.
Getting out into nature doesn’t have to be too arduous. Even in the downtown core, you can access city parks and trail systems. If you live in the suburbs, you likely have access to nearby woodland areas, forests and national parks.
If getting outside (daily) is difficult, consider bringing your natural environment inside. Spend time by a large window (open if possible), play sounds of nature, diffuse essential oils and surround yourself by detoxifying plants. NASA recommends these air-filtering house plants.
If you are the type of person that does better by the sea, you can play sounds of the sea, open your window and fill a bucket with sand and soak your toes in it.
What I love most, is how you can make use this as a stress management tool even in the winter. Its as easy as closing your eyes and imagining yourself in your happy place, whether a forest, a park or by the sea. Recreating in your mind the smells, sounds, sights and sensations can really instantly calm you.
If you want to read more on forest bathing these books are great resources:
Forest Bathing byDr. Qing Li
Forest Bathing: Discovering Health and Happiness by Dr. Cindy Gilbert
Forest Bathing Retreat: Wholeness in the Company of Trees by Hannah Fries