I often take a walk in the woods near my house.
I walk on paved streets to reach this forest trail, taking rapid strides and often breathing in chilled morning air. I catch the early sunlight through the trees. It is such a wonderful time and I feel calmer and more centered.
My little morning reverie has a name: ‘ forest bathing’ or, in the original Japanese, ‘Shinrin-yoku’. This relatively new therapy, the Japanese tell us, literally instills peace, calms us and promotes immunity to disease!Like a walking healing meditation, “forest bathing” coordinates breath and movement in the presence of the scent of forest trees to uplift us.
Ever since a Japanese government agency coined the term, ‘forest bathing’ in 1982, ‘shinrin-yoku’ has slowly made its way into the vernacular in Japan It has a great many Japanese fans who now can visit forty two ‘forest therapy’ parks
for stress relief.Their goal is to set up 100 within the next decade.
The phrase ‘shinrin-yoku’ really means “taking in the forest atmosphere” and recently, Japanese scientists quantified the effects of this atmosphere through several studies.
They credit ‘phytoncides‘, the airborne chemicals (odor) emitted by plants that protect them from disease and insects, as the elements that provide a positive, protective chemical reaction within us humans.
One Japanese study followed 280 healthy residents. Some were instructed to walk through a forest or wooded area for a few hours while others were asked to walk through an urban setting.
On the second day, they traded places. Those who spent time in the woods experienced lower levels of cortisol (which induces stress), a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure while raising levels of white blood cells.
Also in 2007, Japanese men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50-percent increase in the levels of natural killer (NK) cells, white blood cells that kill tumors and viruses.
And another study found an increase in white blood cells that lasted a week in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air.
What this tells us is that inhaling scent from the trees, or more specifically, the volatile oils from trees, makes us healthier. And since we have spent most of our evolutionary history in natural environments – walking in the woods is like a physiological homecoming.
How this works is simple: These aromatic chemicals go straight up our nose to the limbic portion of our brain which releases health inducing hormones and more to reduce our stress and boost our immune system instanteously!
(There is a reason the Magi’s gifts included frankincense and myrrh….)
Of course breathing in and out also plays a part. Breathing meditation calms the mind and develops inner peace. When you do this in a forest, park or botanical garden and inhale those healthy tree scents you double the benefit.
And if you envision yourself connected to the earth and to others in the same way that a forest is connected by its web of roots then the beneficial health effect is magnified.
In summary, a healthy mind and a healthy body are both rejuvenated in healthy forests. A group who promotes forest therapy walks writes this:
It was not an herb walk and it was not a nature walk! It was not a “power walk” through nature, it was a way to become part of the nature-moment.”
This group, Shin-rin yoku looks to be quite wonderful…I don’t know them but click on their name to go their website.