As we talk about staying healthy as we age, there is something that has been proven to improve our mental and physical health: being in nature. In the 1980s, there was a health crisis in Japan due to overwhelming stress at work. Tomohide Akiyama of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-Yoku. This translates to “forest bathing” and entails bathing our senses in all aspects of nature. Japanese doctors wrote scripts for forest therapy and multiple trails were created for this purpose.
There has been much research into all of the benefits nature has for our systems.
- Spending time in nature:
- Reduces stress
- Lowers heart rate
- Lowers cortisol
- Decreases inflammation
- Boosts immune system
- Improves mood
- Increases ability to focus
- Jump-starts creativity
- Increases energy level
- Makes us more generous and compassionate
You can receive these benefits by spending 10-15 minutes each day or one to two hours once a week in nature. These effects can be seen even if you are in a city park as long as there are trees and plants to see and smell. If you live in an urban area like I do, you can spend a little time each day in a nearby park then spend a chunk of time in a more natural area once every week or two.
There are some biological ways that our health is improved. Trees produce chemicals called phytoncides to protect themselves. When we breathe them in, they boost our immune system by stimulating natural killer cells in our immune system. There are minerals and microbes in the soil that also help our health.
Our minds are improved when we are in nature and we feel a sense of awe. This awakens new ways of thinking, understanding, and processing. It also helps us reconsider our sense of self and our roles in society from a more cosmic perspective, leading to greater generosity and altruism.
Forest bathing is different from hiking in that it is a slow wander through nature while paying attention to our senses and staying present in the moment. A guide will first ground you by calling your attention to each of your senses, including your sense of connection with the world around and beneath you. This brings you out of your mind and into your body and helps you to notice what is present right now. The guide will then offer some invitations to wander or sit and bring your attention to certain senses that you can explore. Everyone’s experience will be unique and each person gets what they need from the forest at that time.
Forest bathing can be done anywhere, even in the desert. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy has a list of forest therapy guides so you can find one near you at https://www.natureandforesttherapy.earth/worldwide-member-map. I am currently in their certification program and can’t wait to provide this experience to people in my area. Please let me know if you have any questions about forest therapy.