When stress, depression, and high blood pressure ails you, where is the first place you look? The doctor’s office, right? What if I told you there is a place you can go for free treatment to reduce these afflictions? Believe it or not, that place is right outside your door. No, I’m not talking about your neighbor’s house, I’m talking about a park, the woods, and pretty much anywhere you can find nature!
According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic, Americans spend a shocking 90% of their time indoors. This travesty isn’t affecting Americans alone. That’s why, in the 1980s, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries came up with the idea of Shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing.”
What is Forest Bathing?
While similar to taking a hike in the woods or a walk in the park, forest bathing goes much deeper. It’s a form of therapy that allows you to get in touch with your natural surroundings. Shinrin-yoku is a form of meditating that can benefit your mental and physical health greatly.
In a 2009 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, researchers attribute shinrin-yoku’s health benefits to substances called phytoncides, which are antimicrobial organic compounds that plants release. Researchers believe that by breathing “fresh air”, we more easily achieve a state of relaxation.
Forest bathing involves all of the senses. When Alison Aubry (a reporter with NPR) learned about forest bathing for the first time, she said her guide showed her how to use all five senses. By doing so – she was able to fully immerse herself in the experience.
The best thing about forest bathing is that you don’t actually need a forest. You can go to a local park, a small patch of woods or even your own backyard. The trick is to immerse yourself in the experience, either through meditation or simply attuning yourself to your surroundings. Focus on the present moment: notice the sights, sounds, smells, and tactical sensations around you.
What Does Forest Bathing Do For Us?
Your body produces the hormone cortisol as a way to deal with stress. This hormone fluctuates in humans naturally throughout the day as we deal with normal stressors. Unfortunately, we live in a world of abundant stressors. They can be incredibly hard to escape. When we can’t lower these hormone levels, we’re afflicted with high blood pressure, depression, and a lowered immune system. By using forest bathing as a form of meditation, we effectively lower our cortisol levels and blood pressure, while regulating our blood. More specifically, we are raising our “natural killer” white blood cells. These help us fight off diseases, cancers, and tumors.
Doctors and counselors around the world have seen a great benefit from forest bathing. They realise that guiding yourself in meditation at times can be difficult. That’s why professionals suggest having a forest guide to help you along. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy is taking off all over the world. But a forest guide isn’t necessary and many people without guides are able to see and feel the benefits of this practice.
Being able to clear our minds from daily stressors and anxiety is crucial to both our mental and physical health. Here in the Cincinnati area, we are surrounded by many excellent local, city and county parks! In October 2017, Great Parks of Hamilton County even led a forest bathing experience. Perhaps they’ll offer it again and others will follow suit. Similar programs are available in areas across the globe. Get back in touch with nature and see how it can help you today.
Photo credits: Envato Elements