Spending time in the forest (or anywhere in nature) is a feast for the senses—looking at the vivid colors of the foliage; listening to your footsteps on the carpet of leaves and branches; touching and holding the trees, flowers, and moss; and smelling the freshness and liveliness that fills the air. Research has proven that spending time in nature de-stresses, restores our mood, reenergizes, and rejuvenates (and SO much more). Spending quality time in nature is rewarding for the health of your body, mind, and soul, and the ancient concept of forest bathing may be the answer to your soul’s longing to be in nature.
According to research, spend at least 120 minutes a week in nature for optimum well-being and robust health.
The term forest bathing comes from the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku (meaning forest bath), an activity that relaxes and soothes frayed nerves, improves mood, reduces cortisol levels, brings clarity, improves vitality, boosts serotonin levels; counters depression; and above all, makes you feel really really good!
“Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world,” writes Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.
While most people naturally prefer to spend time out in the woods, many aren’t able to get out in nature as often as they want, and many don’t care to. There is some basis for today’s generation being called the ‘indoor generation.’ Almost 1 in 4 Americans spends all his/her time indoors, stepping out only for their commute to work or school.
So, here are some ways to get us heading outside for more clarity, comfort, and joy on the inside.
Perhaps you’ve been meaning to give up your smartphone addiction for a while, but you did not know how to. Getting away from it all and spending some time in nature can help you overcome this compulsive tendency to be in front of the screens.
Seeing how you feel when the mind is not reeling under an information overload when you put your devices away and rest in the bosom of nature can be refreshing. When you are engrossed in the virtual world of endless beeps and pings, you risk missing out on the beauty each moment has to offer.
There is growing research on how an exponential rise in the time people, especially adolescents, spend on social media has been linked to rising incidents of depression and suicides; while spending time in nature can undo some of this damage. Research also shows that children who were encouraged to spend time by their parents have well-rounded personalities, and “increasing evidence demonstrates the many benefits of nature on children’s psychological and physical well-being, including reduced stress, greater physical health, more creativity, and improved concentration,’ according to the American Psychological Association.
2. Start Young: Nurture a sense of care and concern for Mother Nature.
The internet, video games, homework, assignments, and paucity of time have all contributed to more and more children staying indoors. This dwindling connection with nature, ‘threatens to lessen future generations’ concerns about the environment.’ But being outdoors doesn’t just help develop imagination and wonder in a child and support their cognitive and physical growth, it is also a gentle way of making children care for nature and want to protect it.
3. Good for your heart and mind.
Time in nature is as important as a daily gym routine. A Japanese study on cardiovascular and metabolic parameters showed very encouraging results regarding the physical and mental health benefits of forest bathing. Nineteen participants took a day-long trip to a Japanese forest park, walking 2.6 km for an hour and 20 minutes. The study found, ‘the forest bathing program significantly reduced pulse rate and significantly increased the score for vigor and decreased the scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion.’
4. Improved general well-being and contentment.
Another study, this one published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, showed that just spending some minutes in an urban park reportedly improved subjective well-being (SWB), and levels of life satisfaction. ‘Results indicated a significant improvement in SWB, affect, and life satisfaction scores of park visitor participants from before and after their visit,’ the study said. The study also found that spending about 20.5 minutes at the park produced the highest levels of life satisfaction. More research revealed significant decreases in stress due to the lowering of cortisol levels.
5. Better immunity.
Need even more reasons to go outside? Forest bathing has been shown to positively affect our immune function by increasing the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, immune cells that come embedded with enzymes to kill tumor cells or viral infections.
‘The mean values of NK activity and the numbers of NK, granulysin-, perforin-, and granzymes A/B-expressing cells on forest bathing days were significantly higher than those on the control days,’ the study explains. This benefit lasts for about a month after the trip.
Studies also evidence its healing powers in reducing blood pressure, normalizing heart rate and stress hormones, and boosting the production of serotonin—all of which put you in a state of calm and relaxation.
How should we do forest bathing?
Forest bathing is about being totally in the moment by engaging all your senses when you are out in nature. Dr. Qing Li suggests that you
- Leave your devices at home, including the phone and camera.
- Walk slowly and aimlessly—be guided by your body and senses.
- Listen to the sounds and smells around you.
- Take in all the sights.
- Take deep breaths and absorb all the smells of the forest. ‘Breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides.’
- Glide your hands across the tree trunks. Feel the life growing on these rough edges.
- Sit by a stream, dip your toes in it and watch the water flow. This can be a meditative experience in and of itself.
- Lie down on the forest floor and connect with the earth below.
- Open your heart and talk or sing to the forest. It might sound crazy, but the trees won’t judge you.
Become one with nature and just be!