Nowadays it’s gotten harder and harder for each of us to dedicate some of our time to activities with the sole purpose of letting our mind relax. Overwhelmed by all the responsibilities and tasks of our everyday life, we overlook the possibility of giving ourselves a break, assuming that booking a day at the spa or going off for a quick vacation carry themselves an amount of stress in the planning process, that we’re simply not willing to take on.
However, there are a number of less stressful ways to let our minds loose, one of which is as simple as a stroll in a park, or, as the Japanese put it “Shinrin-yoku”, which roughly translates to “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”.
Keep reading to find out how and why this simple activity can be beneficial for you.
What is forest bathing?
Intuitively, we’ve always known it: when we go for a walk though a natural area, taking in the scenery and breathing the fresh air, we immediately feel more calm, relaxed, restored, almost rejuvenated. This practice has been studied particularly in Japan since the 1980s, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries gave it the name “Shinrin-yoku”. Forest bathing is not to be confused with a fast-paced hike in the woods, it’s not as much focused on the physical exercise as it’s meant to give you the chance to fully experience and soak up the nature around you. The mindset in which you approach this activity should be relaxed, so your heart rate is not meant to jump to an excessive speed. You should walk slowly, open up your senses and take your time.
The health benefits
A robust body of scientific literature has gathered over the years all the health benefits coming from spending time among nature. A study conducted in 2007 found that the participants who took a two hour walk in the woods over two days showed a striking 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells, and this effect lasted for more than a week after the excursion. These cells are responsible for destroying cancer cells and bacterial infections in the body. A trip in the woods will also boost your levels of adiponectin, a substance with an anti-inflammatory effect on blood vessel cells, that in the long run will decrease the risk of heart attack. A meta-analysis in the Environmental Research journal found that spending more time in the green leads to reduced levels of stress hormones, a decrease in both the heart rate and the blood pressure and a significantly lower risk for a number of chronic illnesses.
How to do it
In Japan, forest bathing is a consolidated practice, with entire forests dedicated to do it and a number of programs for guided walks with doctors on hand to offer general evaluations. When you arrive, your physical health gets checked along with your psychological state; afterwards, a therapist will work out the best plan for you. You definitely don’t need, however, a guide or a plan to forest bathe on your own. The only thing you need is a park, or, if that’s not available to you, a location with some natural elements, even your garden will do, as long as it’s free from noise and distractions and it feels comfortable to you. Now all you have to do is unlock your senses and let them guide you through the experience: breathe in the natural aromatherapy of the fragrances of nature, listen to the gentle sounds of the breeze through the branches, appreciate nature’s beauty in all of its elements, feel with your hands the texture of the soil, dip your toes in a stream.
The ways to feel connected with nature are unlimited. You can even match another relaxing activity to forest bathing, taking advantage of the spectacular surrounding of nature: yoga, T’ai chi, meditation, breathing exercises, art classes or plant observation to just name a few.
If you’re still not feeling inspired to venture into a forest bathing trip, try listening to this soothing music to set you in the right mood.
Have you ever tried forest bathing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!