The Practice of Shinrin-Yoku ~ Wonderful well-being for you and the planet
If you have ever taken a walk in Nature and felt all the better for it, then Science is finally able to prove exactly why that is. And believe me, once you know the science behind it, that simple walk will become an even more uplifting and enriching experience.
‘Shinrin-Yoku’ is a Japanese term that translates as ‘taking in the atmosphere of the forest’ or is more widely known as ‘forest bathing’. This practice was developed in Japan in the 1980’s without scientific evidence. They intuitively knew that spending time in the Forest was good for your health and forest retreats were set up around the country. It has now become a cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine and in the early 2000’s scientific research finally began into this practice. There are now volumes of research and evidence on the health benefits of spending time in Nature.
It’s no wonder then that this research is helping to establish Shinrin-Yoku and Nature therapy across the globe. Its arrival is being welcomed with open arms, not just by health professionals but by all those working towards a cleaner, greener happier planet because it promotes reconnection to Nature. This practice is not just about the individual, it’s about being in harmony with and creating community with Nature. It cultivates compassion and awe for the planet, creates a sense of preservation and is an activity that supports the global battle against climate change. Little did you know how important a walk through the woods could be!
So, what exactly is Forest Bathing? I hear you ask and get asked many times.
Forest bathing is essentially a practice of walking slowly and mindfully through Nature. In particular, walking amongst trees because they provide the most amount of healing and health benefits which I’ll explain shortly. With Forest bathing the distance covered in a walk is not important and you can be out in the woods for several hours yet only cover a small distance. In the process of slowing down you are able to pay closer and deeper attention to your surroundings and really connect with Nature through all of your senses. Inviting the environment in through hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose and mouth.
When you are at home or at work you tend to be doing specific tasks that require a direct focused attention. Even walking down the street requires you to concentrate on what you are doing and consider direction, destination, cars and other people. When you step into green space your attention changes completely. There is no need for a specific focus and when you walk with a guide there is no need to even plan a route or a destination. Instead your gaze can be free without force or effort to simply arrive wherever your eyes decide to take you.
The more you allow yourself to slow down and free yourself from agenda, the more you begin to notice the fascinating life of the forest. There is a wonderful sense of aliveness here and a beauty that requires no human intervention at all. Nature simply exists and yet the processes it goes through to exist are nothing short of miracles. The vast array of colours, textures, shapes, patterns, plant life and creatures become more and more apparent as you begin to free your mind from its usual ties and consider the abundance of growth and life around you.
It’s common knowledge that when people learn to slow down and calm the mind, this can have a positive impact on our mental and physical health. In this fast paced, stressful life we all seem to be a part of, Mindfulness is becoming a hugely valuable tool to overcome stress, depression, anxiety and fatigue. With Forest Bathing this health benefit is just the tip of the ice-berg (or as I like to say, the crown of an Oak tree!)
Forest Bathing has been scientifically proven to lower heart rate, lower blood pressure AND lower the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline. Not a bad start? As all of this takes place, it stands to reason that our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system that we spend a lot time in) begins to be supressed, while our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recover) is enhanced.
When we are in rest and recover, we open ourselves to all kinds of benefits. Improved mood, better quality sleep and increased energy. Research into Forest Bathing has shown that all of this has been achieved when people spend time in the forest or in nature.
For me though, the most exciting and symbolic health benefit we receive from Nature is through simply breathing in the atmosphere of the Forest. Trees emit a natural essence, like an aromatherapy and within this aroma are chemicals known as phytoncides. Phytoncides are natural oils that are part of a trees defence system. Trees release them to protect themselves from insects, bacteria and fungi. The good news for us is that when we breath these phytoncides in, they can increase the level of natural killer cells within our body which can be a huge boost to our immune system. Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell that can attack and kill unwanted cells that might create illness and disease. In Japan and Korea there have been numerous studies measuring the effects of breathing in these phytoncides and results show that natural killer cell activity increases.
Wowsers! All of that for just a simple walk in Nature.
The fact that trees emit a chemical that can improve our health and heal us is surely pure proof that humans and Nature belong together. The phytoncides I mentioned above are emitted most prominently at exactly human height. We don’t have to crawl on the floor or climb the trees to receive the benefit, we just walk and receive. I love this!! Humans have evolved over 1000’s of years and our journey began as part of and within Nature, yet sadly as technology increases, we are moving further and further away from it.
That is why this surge of new research and increased activity to reconnect humans with Nature has come at a time when it is needed most. To support individuals with the battle against illness and spiralling mental health issues and to support the planet by rebuilding this neglected relationship and returning to an attitude of restoration instead of consumerism*
So next time you’re walking through nature, challenge yourself to slow down and start paying attention. Slowing down can be the hardest part because we are so used to rushing around from place to place. Maybe challenge yourself to walk without a fixed route and see where you end up and allow yourself to be immersed in the experience rather than the destination. Try walking with a sense of gratitude for the nature that surrounds and is working in harmony with you to improve your health.
I would say try hugging a tree, but I’ll leave that to another blog before I scare you off….
I hold Mindfulness Walks in Nature that involve elements of Forest Bathing and from June 2019 I will be holding Forest Bathing sessions from various locations. To view and book my current walks CLICK HERE
I also offer holistic life coaching programs that are walk and talk sessions out in Nature and are powerful for emotional transformation and igniting creativity. To view details of this CLICK HERE