Some days it’s challenging to decompress. With phones in our pockets that instantly connect us to anyone (anywhere!) in the world, notify us to check our email or Facebook page, update our calendar or download the latest version of some app we rarely use, it seems technology was invented to morph us into 24-hour multitaskers whether we like it or not. It’s no wonder we’re more screen-obsessed and stressed out than ever before.
Here’s a remedy that’s catching people’s attention that doesn’t involve a download. It’s called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. At its simplest, forest bathing is about enveloping yourself in the forest atmosphere to improve mental and physical relaxation.
This isn’t about exercising or eating right. Of course, those would be helpful too. Rather it involves connecting to the natural landscape around you while using all five senses. So roll out the picnic blanket and cloud gaze, take a leisurely stroll, or sit down and soak your feet in a stream.
Forest bathing benefits are backed by scientific findings; being one with nature has been linked to lowered blood pressure, reduced stress, fighting off anxiety and depression, and having positive health benefits similar to natural aromatherapy. Odors exuded by the trees—called phytoncides—are a powerful portion of the healing elements.
In Japan, forest bathing is standard preventive medicine, which is likely why they’ve mastered it. After all, this is probably for the best considering the Japanese invented the word karoshi, which translates to death by overwork. Now scientists are studying what happens inside our body when we are in a park or forest.
Pioneering the research is Qing Li, an associate professor at the Department of Hygiene and Public Health of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, who studies forest medicine and is also president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine. Dr. Li has conducted a number of experiments to test the effects of forest bathing on our moods, stress levels and immune system.
The Profile of Mood States (POMS) test was used in one study to exhibit that “forest bathing trips significantly increased the score of vigor in subjects, and decreased the scores for anxiety, depression and anger – leading to the recommendation that habitual forest bathing may help to decrease the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases. Other studies on immune function looked into whether forest bathing increases the activity of people’s natural killer (NK) cells, a component of the immune system that fights cancer,” according to Healthy Parks Healthy People.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more unfolding about this healthy wellness practice.