Breath in that Forest Air! The healing practice of 'FOREST BATHING'


Every morning, early, I walk for an hour in a forest near my house.

Right now, my 2 walking partners and I leave our homes when it is dark and cold and we return when it is light. 

We walk on paved streets to reach this forest trail, take rapid strides, breath in the cold air and marvel at the sunrise through the trees. Truly wonderful.


Now I find out that our 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 brought 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.

Maybe that is why I wrote a book on trees:

Comments

  1. I recently moved into a densely wooded area and can't wait to do this... will have to wait a while for the snow to melt down a bit. LOL

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  2. Your post is so inspirational! I have to go for a walk in the woods.

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  3. being in the presence of trees - those great woody beings - make us happy. Right?

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  4. This makes perfect sense...sometimes we overlook the obvious. A wonderful "discovery", and not surprising that it comes from a culture that values nature to the point the Japanese do, as they show in holidays devoted to cherry blossoms and viewing the fall maples.

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  5. we are designed for spending most of our time outside..health follows when we are in Nature.

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  6. What a beautiful reminder to step out of the house into the cold and just walk, breathing deeply. Whenever I open a jar of really good peppercorns and inhale the fragrance, it's almost intoxicating--not quite the same effect as inhaling the essence of the trees, but close!

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  7. peppercorns? I have to try that....

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  8. Hi Jan. What a wonderful website and blog! I love trees and especially like this blog on 'forest bathing' and I plan to practice it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom and spirit.

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