Forest Bathing

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

-John Muir

Japanese researchers found that exposure to trees and plants in a forest setting boosts immune function, increases cancer-battling proteins

Who knew exactly how walking in a forest can be beneficial to our overall well-being?  The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” and  it has become quite popular in Japan to take a leisurely walk in the forest, at least a one-mile walk, tune in to ones’ senses, and feel the salubrious benefits of being in nature.

Shinrin-yoku has become the recognized method of relaxation and stress management in Japan.  Studies have shown that walking in the forest and “bathing” in the entire experience, can protect one from cancer!  Yes, the secret is in the trees’ essential oils which are anti-microbial.  Not only do these oils help the trees survive, but as we humans inhale the oils and their scents, we benefit from the oils’ aromatherapy and we benefit from the same anti-microbial properties imparted on the trees themselves.  In other words, the oils help to boost our immune system, and protect us from illness and disease.

Forest Bathing is a little different from hiking.  Forest Bathing is going into the forest and walking at a slow place, deliberately taking in the sight, smells, sounds, and feel of the forest!   It is going into the forest with the intention of taking in the healing effects of the trees and the special wooded environment in order to release stress and become healthier.

I know that when Leslie and I go on our hikes, I always feel younger. I feel the absence of stress and anxiety. Whatever was weighing me down, is instantly lifted off my shoulders.  I seem to stand taller, take longer strides, breathe more deeply.  We generally hike at a good clip, but we always are certain to take in the scenery around us, so in a sense we, too, are Forest Bathing!  All of our senses are involved, so that our hikes become sensory experiences, just as they are in the Japanese Shinrin-yoku.  Studies have shown that walking in a forest measurably reduces stress , lowers blood pressure, and lends to better concentration.  A walk in the forest, like yoga, is a form of stress management.

At our home retreats in Little Renaissance, we take walks on the beach along the ocean and take in the pure, fresh, invigorating ocean air.  We always come back renewed.  We practice yoga back at home with the forest around us.  All around us here at our home and sanctuary, Little Renaissance, we have green forest -low beach forest- practically barging in on us. At least once a year, Rick and I have to painstakingly cut the limbs back because the trees love to grow in towards the house.  We love the trees and the deer that stroll by, grazing and  practicing their “Forest Bathing”, but we also need light and space between our home and the forest.

At Little Renaissance, retreat participants get to reap the rewards of bathing in the forest and ocean light, taking in the sound of the wind in the trees, the distant sound of the surf, and smelling the scent of the forest, which includes the wood oils that are so beneficial for us.  The smell of the forest lowers anxiety and depression diminishes.  All the senses are involved when in a forest.  Here at Little Renaissance, we see is green as we look out the windows.  It is a healing place and now I understand more about how bathing in this atmosphere is beneficial in scientific terms.

Embrace

Below is an article published in Yoga International Fall 2012 issue:

Forest Bathing

The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” and have promoted it as a healthy lifestyle practice for the last 20 years.  But what is it exactly?  A forest bathing trip involves leisurely strolling through a forest-with no particular place to go- taking in the scenery around you, listening to the sounds, and inhaling the scent of the trees.

Part of that aroma comes from phytoncides, the volatile substances (wood essestial oils) that trees and plants in the forest emit to protect themselves from insects and decomposition. Turns out they confer disease protection on humans as well.

Any scientific proof to back that up?  Absolutely.  Between 2005 and 2010, Japanese researchers found that exposure to trees and plants in a forest setting boosts immune function, increases cancer-battling proteins, and produces “lower concentration of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.”

Forest bathing studies discovered psychological benefits as well: participants experienced increased vigor and reduced anxiety, depression, and anger.

So now, go out and take a walk in the woods or forest.  Surround yourself with green and note the difference you feel inside.  If you practice yoga, try an asana or two in the forest (boots and all) and see how combining Yoga and Forest Bathing can set you free and bring you to a place of health and peacefulness.

Delights of the NW Washington Forest: Bearded Moss

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4 Responses to “Forest Bathing”

  1. elysianjewels Says:

    I’m literally on my way to Muir Woods in CA right now!

    Best,

    Kathy

    Like

  2. frangallo Says:

    That’s PERFECT!! love, Fran

    Like

  3. The Sicilian Housewife Says:

    This is interesting. I always feel better when I spend time in a forest. It’s not only the beauty and serenity, but also, forests are areas where the air has a higher level of oxygen than most places, especially cities. Since I have lyme disease, I actually feel myself becoming more energetic and alert when I get more oxygen. And of course, there’s always something interesting to see in a forest!

    Like

  4. Nora Brown Says:

    Very interesting, no wonder I always feel so wonderful after a walk in the woods. When we were in CA this summer we walked at Muir Woods, I love it there, the smells, the air, so refreshing! Thanks Fran for posting this!

    Like

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