Forest Bathing is a wellness practice that originated in Japan, in the 1980s. Shinrin-Yoku, is literally translated to "bathing in the atmosphere of the forest", and was initiated by the Ministry of Health in an effort to promote greater health in the mainly urban Japanese populations.
Research studies in Japan over more than two decades describe a wide range of health benefits from the practice of Forest Bathing including lowered blood pressure, reduced stress, a stronger immune system, reduced anxiety and greater attention and concentration.
Studies in the United States have been looking into the relationship between time spent in nature and directed attention. Directed attention is one of the functions of the frontal lobe our human brain, which is also responsible for other executive functions such as problem solving, critical thinking and analysis. Modern life challenges us with unique attention loads compared to our ancestors, with more stimuli to keep track of than our brains were designed to handle. A sign of overload is making mistakes. It has been shown that time in nature, short or longer reprieves, allows our executive functions a rest, for better focus and directed attention later. It is akin to the need to rest and reboot our computers when they lock up or don't respond.
MEDICINE IN THE AIR Japanese studies have focused particularly on a class of chemicals called phytoncides, the essential oils found in many types of woody plants, particularly conifers. By simply breathing in the air beneath the canopy of the trees we benefit from the this natural aromatherapy. Phytoncides have been shown to help us fight infection and raise the count of our NK immune cells, which specialize in fighting cancer.
Trees and plants bathe themselves in these substances as a way to protect themselves from insects, pests and harmful fungus. While they boost our human immune system, we might think of them as a sort of immune system for plants and trees.
GETTING BACK TO COMMON SENSES Nature provides many healing influences including the sound of the wind in the pines, the sweet songs of the birds, the textures of plants and trees, the warmth of sunlight, the ripples of the moving water...all invitations to come into relationship with our own senses as well as into closer relationship with the natural world around us. All forms of life have their own innate intelligence, their own innate wisdom. When we slow down and tune into our senses, we can listen to the whispers of the more than human world to complement the healing effects of phytoncides. Developing a sense of reciprocity and appreciation with the more then human world can bring a sense of place and hope for a more sustainable world, another aspect of health and wellbeing.
Sensory immersion is an inherently healing practice. So much of our stress comes from preoccupations with what is past or what may come. Our mental preoccupations create a state of physical and mental tension. Our minds become agitated, we find ourselves caught in negative thought loops. Opening our senses anchors us into our bodies again, freeing our minds to be in the present moment, present to our selves and to the world around us. Our minds become quieter and more spacious without struggle, with ease. The wisdom in our body becomes available to us once we have tuned into the information our senses provide us.
BENEFITS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Participants also have reported feeling profoundly relaxed yet energized, feeling lighter, happier and having a quieter mind, which for some was a new experience. Here are personal accounts from some of our participants' experiences: "I am more in my body, peaceful, joyous, thankful. I am less preoccupied, hurried and stressed." Joan
"I feel like a different person - calm, peaceful, relaxed. I enjoyed these few hours of just thinking of nothing except the forest around me." Pat
"I feel relief. My mind, heart and body. I feel connected to the forest and I don't want this feeling to end."Jan
"The experience gave me a space to let go, let go of everything except my senses and awareness of my surroundings to purposefully breathe and be in the forest, a place I visit often but am never really there!" Steph
"Don't assume you've "been there, done that". I grew up in and spent a lot of time in the woods, and this was a great NEW experience." Jamie