It’s back to Mother Nature for many people who are looking for a way to reduce their stress levels and thus prevent disease and illness.
It starts with a ritual called forest bathing or forest therapy that is backed by a growing body of scientific research that has measured its many benefits. A significant effect is the lowering of blood pressure (for people with high blood pressure) 15 minutes after taking a forest bath.
Many groups around the world practice forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku,” a term coined in 1982 by Tomohide Akiyama, director of the Japanese Forestry Agency. The concept focuses on slow walking through the forest and swimming “in the environment of the forest, using all your senses to experience nature up close”.
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a university professor, researcher and deputy director of the Center for Environment, Health and Field Science at Chiba University, has published many books on the effects and benefits of forest therapy. In his book “Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Method of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation,” Miyazaki explained how his research studies measured the benefits of a long, slow walk in the forest.
Calling the practice “nature therapy” or “forest therapy,” Mr. Miyazaki traces its effects to man’s connection to nature. “Humans have spent more than 99.99% of their time throughout history in a natural environment.”
That is why when we come into contact with nature, we feel relaxed. “It’s because our bodies (including our genes) were made to adapt to nature.”
His studies have shown that when people are in a natural environment, they report feeling relaxed. Stress is reduced. “This simple gesture helps regulate the nervous system, promoting a healthier balance between activation and relaxation. This way disease can be prevented and a healthy lifestyle is maintained.
Nature therapy, he emphasized repeatedly in the book, is a “preventive approach to reducing stress levels, improving quality of life, and potentially reducing the cost and strain on health services caused by stress-related illnesses.
His research has shown that by simply walking through a forest, people experience many benefits during and after a forest therapy session.
Here are the benefits of sylvotherapy that his studies have measured:
- Improvement of weakened immunity, with an increase in the number of natural killer (NK) cells, known to fight tumors and infections.
- Increased body relaxation due to increased activity in the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Reduced body stress due to reduced sympathetic nervous system activity.
- Reduction in blood pressure after only 15 minutes of forest therapy.
- Reduction of feelings of stress and general feeling of well-being.
- Reduction in blood pressure after one day of forest therapy, which lasts up to five days after therapy.
An interesting study on the restorative power of nature is also mentioned in the book. He studied the effect of the view from a window of patients who had had their gallbladder removed. Pennsylvania scientists studied patients who recovered in hospital. Some of the patients were in rooms with a view of nature, while the others had windows facing a brick wall.
They found that “patients with a nature view left the hospital earlier and required fewer painkillers during their stay.”
The study on the benefits of nature therapy also included the effect of plants in the house, the smell of wood and essential oils, and gardening. Many elements of nature have the same beneficial effects as shinrin-yoku, and he recommended ideas “to bring the forest closer to home” and reduce stress.
If you are interested in forest bathing, there are many books and articles about it online. A book I read years ago – “The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing” by Julia Plevin – is a guide to rituals one can follow to find “calm, creativity and connection in the natural world”.
For Ms. Plevin, forest bathing is “the practice of intentionally connecting with nature as a means of healing. Part mindfulness, part child’s play, it’s a portal to a true understanding of yourself and the world around you.
I have practiced forest bathing for a long time, although I only realized that my attachment to the forest had a name after reading about it. As a mountaineer, I have traveled through many forests and reached the peaks. In the forest, I’m a happy person and I don’t complain, even if I’m tired and wet from the rain. I just feel happy. Shinrin-yoku explained it to me.
The first two years of the pandemic, I did forest bathing in our little yard that a neighbor had filled with plants. As soon as the border restrictions were lifted, I went into the forest, walked two dense trails in one day – and felt happy, energized and extremely relaxed. (I am an elderly person.)
At Camp John Hay in Baguio City, there is a trail specifically marked “forest swimming trail”. It winds through a beautiful pine forest that a slow walker can cover in about two hours.
But if that’s too far for you now, remember what Mr. Miyazaki said in his book: “Any space where plants grow can offer relaxing effects to those willing to seek them out and spend time there. time.”
Sometimes the problem is not finding the green spaces but our busy minds that we cannot put aside to allow our bodies to relax, he pointed out.
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