It’s no wonder so many people are turning to camping as their summer getaway right now. Not only is it a safer environment to be during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also helps heal our bodies and minds by enveloping you in a forest. Enter shinrin-yoku, translated forest bathing, a term coined by the Japanese in 1982. It’s based on ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, essentially meaning to allow nature into your body through all the five senses—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Forest therapy was a response to a public health crisis of high-stress levels at work and a worrying ‘spike’ in auto-immune diseases. Japan has about 48 “forest therapy” trails by the official Forest Agency. So how exactly does forest bathing heal us?
I don’t think anyone would argue that upon entering a forest, you immediately begin to become more present in your body. A magical thing happens when human bodies commune with nature–they physically change. Trees and plants emit an oil called phytoncide that helps protect them from insects, germs, and fungi. These oils have many health benefits for the human body*, including:
- Improve mood by reducing stress and anxiety
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- Improves immune system functions
- Promotes better sleep
While any forest will offer these health benefits, an evergreen forest will provide the most benefit due to its highest emission of phytoncides. When able, choose a forest with a high concentration of spruce, conifers, cedar, or pine trees.
© Amos G
Trees are often referred to as the lungs of the planet, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. They also filter the air by removing pollutant gases like ammonia and ozone. So when you breathe deep inside a forest, the air is rich with fresh filtered oxygen and other beneficial aerosols that result in increased energy and improved mental clarity. Higher levels of oxygen also acts as a natural detoxifier and improves cellular regeneration in damaged tissues and organs. Forest therapy works well for recovering addicts because the increased oxygen can aid in the detoxification of the liver and pancreas. Other health benefits of forest air include:
- Stabilizes the nervous system
- Improves the immune system
- Supports the digestive system
- Helps with depression
There’s a good reason people use sound machines to lull themselves to sleep at night, or simply to relax. It’s been scientifically proven that nature sounds help soothe the mind, ease tension, and lower blood pressure. Forest sounds can include birds, critters, insects, leaves rustling, and flowing water. This audible track layers upon the beneficial oils and increased oxygen to boost the health benefits mentioned above.
Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li
Dr. Li is the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine. The book beautifully explores the science of forest medicine—and goes into great detail about how to practice shinrin-yoku.
Wild Calm: Finding Mindfulness in Forest Bathing: A Guided Journal by Joan Vorderbruggen
Expert insight from a certified forest therapy guide to help you engage more deeply to experience a sense of presence during your time in nature.
Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing)
Sit back and watch this relaxing fly-through video of beautiful forests in California and Hawaii. While not as beneficial as in-person, the video acts as a relaxing bridge to the real thing.
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