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Understanding the Benefits of Forest Bathing

In our modern, busy world, both city and country dwellers struggle to find time to immerse themselves in nature—often spending a good deal of time inside the office or traveling from place to place.  And yet, a reconnection with nature could be the key to supporting not only our sense of peace and wellbeing, but our physical health and immune system as well.

Developed in Japan in the early 1980’s, Forest Bathing—or Shinrin-Yoku—is the method of engrossing oneself in a patch of forest or trees to improve health and wellness. Throughout decades of study, forest bathing has been determined to decrease blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, and increase the body’s ability to heal itself. So whether you find yourself in a small rural town or a bustling city, setting aside time to sit and walk within nature—without any distractions or expectations—is a proven way to return to a healthy state of mind and body.

Forest Bathing for Our Health

In 2010, the results of a study—in a group of extensive studies that occurred over a decade on the topic—were released depicting the findings of 12 subjects experiencing the effects of time spent in the city versus time in the forest.  One group was sent to the heart of a busy urban area while the others spent time surrounded by nature. On the second day, the groups switched. Vitals such as blood pressure, cortisol levels, pulse rate, parasympathetic nerve activity and sympathetic nervous system were measured at the start and end of both days.  As predicted by the Shinrin-Yoku practitioners, all of these levels were favorable in the forest settings.  A 2009 study also found that cancer-fighting cells increased when humans are exposed to the essential oils—or phytoncides—present in the air surrounding trees.  What’s more, the effects of depression, anxiety, and other acute emotions were lessened in these naturally vibrant settings, even in patients with chronic concerns.

How to Experience Forest Bathing

The Shinrin-Yoku organization suggests experiencing nature in combination with mindfulness practice.  Instead of pairing your hike or walk through the park with an exercise routine, headphones, or cell phone, travel with the intention of simply feeling present and aware of your environment. The natural rhythms, sights and sounds of the surrounding trees and foliage will settle the mind and both without seeking any special practice—it is actually recommended to avoid exerting too much energy toward the practice at all, but instead, simply allow the experience to occur on its own.  If time is a difficult factor for you, consider setting aside your next vacation for a forest-bathing-related journey, opposed to a spa or resort that also offers stress relief in different ways. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy’s blog has several great suggestions here.

While some areas of the country offer infinite trails and reservations to discover, others may focus their nature into the parks and gardens of a city.  Either way, finding these patches of green are a great place to spend your lunch break, a portion of the weekend, or even your next vacation—all in the name of continuing to grow our mental wellbeing, physical awareness, and overall sense of joy and contentment.

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