A connection with nature is intrinsic to human behavior. It is etched into our genetic code. Connecting with nature is akin to a feeling of returning home. The state of our mind designs the state of our life. This article will explore Forest Bathing – a simple practice to relax the mind and revitalize the body.
What is Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is immersing in nature with all our senses. We take in nature by smelling, tasting, seeing, listening, and touching. We feel the forest deep within our souls. It is a transforming experience when we get out of our way.
“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” - John Muir
Origin of Forest Bathing
Forest Bathing is an ancient Japanese Zen practice. Though the term Shinrin-yoku (shinrin means forest, and yoku means bath) was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The purpose was to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to protect the country's forests.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
Field experiments were conducted in 24 forests across Japan to understand the connection between forest bathing and our wellbeing. These experiments scientifically proved two major impacts of forest bathing on our health that have cascading consequences.
Lower stress levels
Our nervous system has two responses - the sympathetic system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic system (rest and recover). These responses are controlled by cortisol hormone - our in-built alarm system. Cortisol has kept us alive for millennia. Cortisol gets elevated when we are stressed or feel threatened. Heart rate and breathing increase, blood pressure rises, digestion shuts down, and we are ready to fight or flight. It gets back to a normal level once the threat is past.
Unfortunately, in modern society, we are in constant stress mode - looming deadlines at work, below-expectations grades of children, the rising cost of living, the political environment, climate change, and so on. This high-alert state with elevated cortisol levels throws our body out of balance. Chronic stress has been linked to hypertension, heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and anxiety. Forest Bathing helps reduce levels of cortisol and bring back the balance. Heart rate and breathing get normal, blood level lowers, digestive system functions, and we are in a rest and recover state.
Boost in immunity
According to research, many trees secrete compounds, known as phytoncides. Phytoncides are produced to help plants and trees protect themselves from microbes and pathogens. Phytoncides are linked to lower blood pressure and increase the production of natural killer (NK) cells in our bodies. NK cells are one of our bodies natural defenses against cancer and infections. Breathing in the forest air boosts the level of natural killer (NK) cells in our blood, in turn increasing our immunity.
In addition, there are numerous other documented benefits of forest bathing.
Promotes better sleep
Increases levels of energy
Increases ability to focus
Improves overall mood
How to forest bathe
Leave all distractions at home or car. Don't schedule anything for the day.
Find a trail that works for you and is not crowded.
Let your body be your guide and take your time. There is no hurry and no destination to go for.
Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet.
Listen to the birds singing, breeze rustling in the leaves, murmuring of the stream.
Look at the shades of green and the sunlight filtering through the leaves.
Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe deep.
Taste the freshness of the air and maybe some blueberries.
Feel the texture of a leaf. Lie on the ground.
Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.