Shinrin yoku, translated into English as „forest bathing”, means taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk.
The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way, there are calming, restorative, and rejuvenating benefits to be achieved.
A forest bathing trip involves visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation while breathing in volatile substances, called phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees, such as limonene and a-pinene.
Spices, garlic, onion, tea tree, locust, oak, cedar, pine, and many other plants give off phytoncides.
Incorporating forest bathing trips into a good lifestyle was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan. It has now become recognized as a stress management and relaxation activity in Japan.
In 2008, the world reached an interesting milestone: more people lived in urban areas than outside of them. In the United States, urban areas grew faster in 2010 and 2011 than suburban regions for the first time since the 1920s.
According to Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, the average American spends at least 8 hours a day looking at some sort of electronic screen, and children are engaged with electronic media on average 52 hours a week, but usually spend less than 49 minutes outside.
Then we try to relax by watching TV. Bad idea.
Studies demonstrated that this only makes us crabbier. Since the age of the Internet, North Americans have become more narcissistic, more aggressive, more depressed, more distracted, and less cognitively nimble, and fatter.
Every study conducted so far has demonstrated reductions in anxiety, stress, anger, depression, and sleeplessness amongst the participants. In fact, after just fifteen minutes of forest bathing blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced, and concentration and mental clarity improve.
In 2005, a series of investigations with both Japanese male and female subjects have been carried out with the aim of studying the effect of forest bathing on human immune function. They concluded that the phytoncides released from trees decrease the production of stress hormones.
”Phytoncide exposure reduces stress hormones, indirectly increasing the immune system’s ability to kill tumor cells,” says Tokyo-based researcher Qing Li.
A 2009 study conducted in 24 forests by Japanese researchers, titled „The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku”, found that the forest environments promoted „lower pulse rate, lower concentrations of cortisol, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, lower blood pressure, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.”
After just 20 minutes in the woods, people were mellowing out.
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Health benefits of Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing):
- Significantly improves the functioning of the immune system, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells;
- Reduces blood pressure;
- Reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline;
- Increases the ability to focus, even in children with ADHD;
- Reduces sympathetic nervous activity, increases parasympathetic nervous activity, having a relaxing effect;
- Reduces heart rate and blood pressure, and enhances heart function;
- Increases feelings of mental vigor, thus feeling refreshed and revitalized;
- Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness;
- Increases energy levels;
- Decreases feelings of anxiety, depression, fatigue, confusion, and anger;
- Improves work performance and reduces job stress;
- Improves sleep quality.
How to Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing)?
To give forest bathing a try, choose a spot based on physical ability and convenience. Do not choose a route that is too strenuous: it is recommended that in 4 hours, you should walk no more than 3 miles. This is not an endurance hike.
Rest when necessary and find a spot where it is pleasant to sit, read, and meditate for a while or simply look out into the trees. It is ok to bring water or tea. It is also recommended that, if possible, a shinrin yoku is followed up with a hot spring bath.
Featured image credit – Sander van der Werf / Shutterstock.com
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