The Art of Forest Bathing

Sometimes it feels that we are pressing the limits of speed to arrive in time, perhaps through brisk walks or applying weight to a gas pedal.  The stop and go of daily life build tension stretching to the shoulders and extending through the spine to the lower regions of the calf muscles and feet.  The answer for most people is a need for relaxation, to stand still and find an inner escape.  For an individual who has mere minutes to spare, looking at pictures of natural landscapes, such as mountains, lapping waves, or the solitude of a forest, is one solution.  Merely being in the presence of an image for 20 minutes has been proved to abate salivary cortisol, a stress hormone.  Or, to go beyond the 13% improvement in feeling better by doing this, try soaking in a tree’s life force to rejuvenate your spirit through an experience called “forest bathing.”  Is that truly a thing?  Well, yes.  The body, immersed in water, can find relief; why not receive the same mind-altering feeling by bathing under a canopy of trees?

How Did Forest Bathing Begin? 

 Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese words for forest and bath, began in 1982, due to the miraculous health benefits noted from a 40-year research trial.  As a result, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has created a national forest bathing program and designated select areas as “forest bathing reserves.”   In endeavoring to share the merits of nature’s healing on the human body’s psychological and physiological systems, “Forest Bathing” traveled worldwide, arriving in early 1990 to the United States.  

Research Spotlight

Naturalists and foresters have expressed the link between human life and trees for generations.  However, in the era of environmental protection and the deep desire to save the forests, research continues to shine light on how the presence of woodlands truly serves a medicinal purpose for health and wellness.  Through personal experience in a National Park, fresh air and exposure to nature boost human energy levels and improve mood.  Not surprisingly, the database found that countless individuals had significant health results from forest bathing. 

Notable Examples are: 

  • Parasympathetic Nerve System Increase: From a study of 280 participants, forest environments lowered pulse rate, blood pressure, and nerve activity, as compared to city environments. Additionally, the parasympathetic nervous system responded by lowering cortisol concentrations, which impacted chronic stress situations, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, and memory impairment.  
  • Significant Reduction in Blood Pressure:  From 15 studies and 732 participants aged from 45 to 85, researchers saw changes in hypertensive levels, especially significant changes in blood pressure. 
  • Boost Immune Functioning:  The stress hormone can compromise the immune system; however, as exhibited in two studies comprising both men and women, the results showed increases in immune strength, elevated mood states, and a 50% decrease in natural killer cells, disease-fighting agents.  In addition, women showed increased anti-cancer proteins, which remained active in their bodies for over seven days.

Start Close to Home 

Begin your journey into forest bathing by finding a safe, natural area with few distractions to ensure a quiet atmosphere with fresh air and peace.  Forest bathing isn’t a hike, nor is it bathing.  The experience requires you to find a tranquil view and stop walking.  Then take slow, deep breaths.  Forgo the need to elevate your heartbeat on a trail; instead, bring a blanket or perhaps a chair.  Shut down technology and focus on basking in the beauty of nature.  The act of sitting still can be a challenge. As with learning yoga or an exercise routine, you may want to try forest bathing in ten-minute increments and work your way to a full day of rehabilitation.  Sitting in silence may be perfect with a good friend or someone else who also needs a meditative approach to seek out the moments of awe and wonder!   Yes, you can! 

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