Spring is finally here in full bloom and people are coming out in droves to enjoy the weather. Personally, I’ve been looking forward to the warmer weather so that I can hit the trails for a hike or a bike ride.
I have always loved wandering through forests and find them to be very relaxing. After going through a separation last year, long walks on trails helped me in my healing. It turns out that there are many studies that show the health benefits of exposure to forests.
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that translates to “forest bathing”. According to Shinrin-Yoku.org:
Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.
Here is their introductory video:
Forest bathing significantly reduces stress. In a previous blog post I discussed the negative effects of chronic stress. It is the root cause many mental and physical health problems. Excess stress plays a role in headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, and arthritis.
The scientifically proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
According to natureandforesttherapy.org:
Forest bathing catalyzes increased parasympathetic nervous system activity which prompts rest, conserves energy, and slows down the heart rate while increasing intestinal and gland activity. Lower cortisol concentrations are also a signal that the body’s stress-response system is being triggered less. When this system is triggered, cortisol and other stress hormones are released into the body. Overexposure to these chemicals in response to chronic stress can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
Forest bathing is a great low-impact physical activity that many people can benefit from. It is different from a hike because you are encouraged to walk slowly, breathe and open your senses to your surroundings. In fact, you don’t even have to walk very far. The purpose is to let your mind and body wander. If you are drawn to a specific sight, sound or smell you are encouraged to stop and enjoy it.
A great way to discover local trails is with by using a great free app called AllTrails.
It has a very active community and a lot of information and reviews about trails. It also has some amazing GPS and mapping functions.
Please share your healing experiences in the forest!