“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir
Shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest bathing” or the medicine of being in the forest, is all the rage in Japan and South Korea. There are 44 official shirin-yoku accredited forests in Japan where folks go to escape civilization and engage in mindful forest relaxation as a source for restoration and healing. South Korea has invested $140 million in a new center on forest therapy. The effects are powerful.
Being in nature soothes the nervous system through the release of hormones that positively impact the body, mind and spirit. Several studies on the practice of shinrin-yoku have confirmed that the practice diminishes stress, depression, anxiety and even insomnia. Taking a stroll in the forest leads to a reduction of cortisol (the stress hormone) by over 15 percent when compared to folks walking in a city setting.
It also increases the psychological vitality and vigor of participants. If you’re currently stuck at work or landlocked in the concrete jungles of the city, simply looking at a photo of nature can bring about positive emotions by lowering activity in the pre-frontal cortex where we do all of our planning and decision making.
So if you feel overwhelmed, tied up and trapped by your to-dos, forest therapy can even be done in the comfort of your home.
Imagine the lushness of a forest as you engage your five senses in journey into the wild:
Listen: Hear the birds chirping, and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees.
Look: Engage your sense of sight in the lush greenery of trees and the rich browns of the soil beneath your feet.
Touch: Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Place your hands on the trunk of tree.
Smell: Inhale the fragrance of fresh forest trees, the soil, the grass and the sweet entrancing lure of dewy leaves.
Taste: Experience the freshness of the air as you breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phyoncides, the natural byproduct given off by plants and insects. These are used in holistic health traditions in China, Japan, Russia and the Ukraine.
Dr. Qing Li, a medical researcher from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo describes the impact of phytoncides: “Phytoncide exposure reduces stress hormones, indirectly increasing the immune system’s ability to kill tumor cells.” In one study, women who spent between two and four hours in the forest had an almost 40 percent increase in the activity of their cancer-fighting white blood cells!
Unplugging into nature is also great for creativity and innovation. A study of Outward Bound participants who hiked and camped for three days saw a 50 percent boost in their creativity.
The beauty is that forest medicine is free, powerful and accessible even if it’s just a walk in the park or a few moments spent gazing at an image of mother nature in full bloom.
So what are you waiting for? Turn off your cell phone. Slow down. Engage your five senses. Leave your heart rate monitor and iPod at home. Unplug. Go into the wild. Bathe yourself in the luxuries of mother nature. And if it’s raining, there’s all the more to experience.
“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~ Langston Hughes
For more information on forest therapy, check out:
Author: Kristi Kremers
Editor: Evan Yerburgh