Ever wanted to just break out of your office and run to the forest? Well, maybe you should – it could heal you and restore your energy levels.
Although the concept sounds a little far-fetched at first, forest bathing is relatively simple. Being surrounded by nature could harbor huge benefits for people who are stuck in a stressful, monotonous routine.
So, what is forest bathing exactly?
The Practice Of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is a variation of the ancient Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku. There are numerous ways to approach forest bathing, but the basic concept is the same: you go to a forest and take in the surroundings mindfully. This means seeing, experiencing, and appreciating the natural beauty of the trees around you.
Breathing in the forest air and acknowledging the peace of the environment may have a similar effect to meditation. Studies have shown that forest bathing can reduce high blood pressure, calm the mind and bring down stress levels.
In fact, researchers are now looking into ways in which forest bathing may be used to treat those with heart disease and other chronic illnesses. These techniques may involve sessions in which patients spend hours or even days in the woods as a means of treating cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
Why Does Forest Bathing Work?
Biochemists who study ‘forest medicine’ have made fascinating claims about the healing power of trees and nature. The practice of shinrin-yoku is based on Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. It’s a relaxation technique that utilizes trees in all their capacity. For example, a tree contains and releases both camphor and limonene compounds, which can have a slightly ‘narcotic’ effect on the senses.
Researchers have also investigated the potential for trees to have antibiotic properties through their phytoncides – the volatile molecules within the essential oils secreted by trees. These compounds are secreted by the tree as a means of protecting itself from harmful bugs and other pests.
The molecules in these compounds not only purify the air, but can boost immune function. Think pine oil and eucalyptus: these essential oils are both known to be powerful immune system enhancers. Aromatherapy using Pinus strobus can help to boost numbers of T-cells in the body (important immune cells). Hawthorn is another beneficial plant-based medicine that can help to relieve congestion in the arteries.
Other studies have shown that forest bathing has a powerful effect on body systems associated with stress. One doctor found that just spending a single day in the first air can dramatically reduce a patient’s levels of cortisol and adrenaline – the two stress hormones linked to adrenal fatigue.
Physicists say that the ‘stress reduction’ effect of trees is in part due to the feeling of awe when we’re surrounded by nature. This is caused by the way in which our eyes see something and our brain processes it as something pleasurable.
Why Our Disconnect From Nature Is Linked To Stress
Many of us don’t realize how disconnected we are from nature. Modern life is largely spent in the city – in offices, schools, on the road or otherwise ‘housed’. We’re also usually in front of a screen or some form of digital communication. Many of us have lost the human connection to the natural world. This may be why we feel dissatisfied, uninspired and stressed.
Advocates of nature’s healing potential say that nature can help to change the cognitive and emotional function of our brains.
There are now forest-bathing parks in South Korea, Finland and Canada. Members of the military who have been affected by post-traumatic stress disorder are also being treated with forest-bathing programs.
Forest Bathing And The Immune System
Japanese researchers have measured the activity of natural killer cells in the body before and after people experience forest bathing. The results were amazing. Our NK cells are the cells which respond to viruses and help fight tumor formation. They’re also the cells associated with the health of our immune system and cancer prevention.
This study showed that patients had significant boosts in their NK cells a week after their forest bathing session. These positive effects lasted for a full month following each weekend spent in the trees.
Forest Bathing And Stress Reduction
Being in nature is good for the soul. Another Japanese study on 280 subjects in their early 20s assessed the effects of 30-minute forest-bathing sessions compared to the effects of a day in the city. The researchers found that the forest environment promoted lower concentrations of cortisol, pulse rates, blood pressure and greater sympathetic nervous activity (rest and digest) and lower sympathetic nervous activity (fight or flight) than in a city environment.
In short, a walk in the woods is a powerful way of reducing your stress levels and feeling better overall!
How to Practice Forest Bathing
This is the easiest part of all. Unlike the name suggests, there’s no ‘bathing’ involved in forest bathing. All you have to do is be amongst the trees. You can sit, or wander, or just meditate – the point is simply to relax and take in the surroundings. You don’t even have to take a long hike! The less effort, the better.
If you live in the city and don’t have easy access to a forest, even a park or bush-lined street is better than nothing. The exposure to greenery makes a healthy change from a computer screen, any day.
See The Trees And Breathe Easier
Forest bathing certainly has its benefits, and few can argue that the peacefulness of the woods helps them to feel calmer. And considering that this technique has been practiced for centuries by traditional Zen masters, there must be some truth to it!
The only way to discover the healing powers of forest bathing is to experience for yourself. You don’t even have to call it ‘bathing’ – but rather just a walk in the woods. Break out of your humdrum routine and escape to the clean, cool quiet of a forest near you. You could be doing your body and soul a huge favor.
For more advice on healing your adrenals and recovering from chronic stress, check out the Adrenal Fatigue Solution package: books, videos, and meditations designed to reduce your stress and recover your energy levels.