“Throughout our evolution, we’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time in natural environments. Our physiological functions are still adapted to it. During everyday life, a feeling of comfort can be achieved if our rhythms are synchronized with those of the environment.” – Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Chiba University’s Center of Environment, Health and Field Sciences
It is widely agreed that spending time walking in nature helps calm us, relieve stress and improve our physical health. In Japan during the 1980’s the practice of shinrin-yoku was developed as a preventive health care method. Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is more than just taking a mindless walk in the woods. Organized forest bathing usually includes meditation and other mindfulness techniques that deepen your connection with nature and help you become aware of the present moment.
The idea of shinrin-yoku is to let nature enter your body through all five senses. In organized shinrin-yoku trips, which usually last three days or more, a guide will take you through practices that let you taste, see, smell, feel and hear nature. You allow each sense to be filled by nature to help become present and allow the healing benefits of nature to come at you from all sides.
Scientific studies have shown that this holistic healing technique can be especially helpful in fighting cancer. Many trees give off organic compounds that support our “natural killer” cells and improve our immune system. Additional health benefits include lowered blood pressure, reduced cortisol levels, increased vigor, reduced anger and reduced depression. The Japanese government has funded at least $4 million in forest-bathing research in the last ten years, which has helped us understand how forest bathing actually does provide health benefits.
Forest bathing also benefits our mental clarity, increases our energy, increases our awareness and understanding of the natural world and deepens our relationships.
…forest bathing (either a day trip or a couple of hours daily over three days) can have a long-lasting influence on immune markers relative to city trips. Specifically, there were marked increases in the number of natural killer cells, increases in the functional activity of these antiviral cells, and increases in the amount of intracellular anticancer proteins. The changes were noted at a significant level for a full week after the trip. The improvements in immune functioning were associated with lower urinary stress hormones while in nature. None of this was observed during or after the comparison city trips. – Your Brain on Nature: Forest Bathing & Reduced Stress, Eva Selhub and Alan Logan Bene
It’s unrealistic to spend time every week forest bathing, but a study done at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo showed that a one day trip to a suburban park boosted “natural killer” cells and anticancer proteins for at least seven days after the trip.
The scientist behind the study, Qing Li, suggested visiting a natural area one weekend a month and a park once a week. If this still seems out of reach for you right now, check out my post on 10 Easy Ways to Spend More Time Outside.