There is something about walking amongst trees.
Sometimes it feels like I have entered the special peace and energy of a towering natural cathedral or giant hall. There is something about the cooling green dappled light, that distinct mossy aroma of being in the woods.
For me it is this combination of hushed peace and solitude, the earthy scents and that special quality of light on entering a wood that I love so much.
Turns out that recent research has shown that there really are benefits to our health and well-being through spending time with trees!
Shinrin-Yoki – Forest Bathing
The Japanese are keen on forest bathing and they call it Shinrin-yoki and it is growing in popularity.
The irony is not lost on me that just as we are destroying miles of forest and jungle every minute we are discovering more reasons why trees are so essential to our health and well-being!
Shinrin-yoki encourages us to use time spent in woods and forest to develop our natural senses such as sight, smell, touch, and hearing. Meditations and exercises are practiced to allow us to slow down and simply ‘bathe’ in the woods.
In our fast paced modern world who wouldn’t benefit from an hour devoted to simply forest bathing?
Whether it is in springtime bluebell carpets, crisp frosty snow drops, golden autumn leaves or bright cooling green summer leaves our constantly changing woods offering us new beauty.
The research is very interesting.
Trees give off oils that we inhale as we walk through woods, similar to essential oils that boost our immune system.
Researchers found that not only did forest bathers have an increase in immune cells after spending time in the woods but this lasted for up to 30 days afterwards.
Equally impressive was the fact that ‘T’ cells which are produced in response to stress were reduced, so indicating time spent in woods reduces stress.
The same tests were performed on a group who walked the same distance but in the city. They did not have the benefits our forest bathers had!
In fact tests were done on all the major stress response chemicals in the body such as cortisol and blood pressure showing that regular time spent in forests and woods improved both stress and blood pressure.
This makes sense as the world we humans evolved in has always been heavily forested, until the last 100 years!
In nature everything is connected; including humans and trees. We know trees are vital for oxygen and now it seems they can improve our health and well-being as well.
I was interested to read that even looking at a picture of trees had a positive impact on us! (I have an amazing forest picture at home)
Simple steps for ‘forest-bathing’
This research has encouraged me to seek out regular ways to experience my own ‘forest bathing’; I am sure as research develops there will be many more ideas. As always nature has a diverse range of ways to help us live happier and healthier and most only need us to make time and a little effort!
1. Exercise in woods, everything from walking, running, and cycling to ‘working out’ with the woods as your gym.
2. Family and social time such as picnics, hide and seek, and games.
3. Forest school – this has become popular in schools. But why not take the kids to your local wood and explore forest school ideas together? Also why not educate yourself about nature and understand what is happening around you from botany to wild-life.
4. Simply relax in the woods quietly reading, writing, sketching and chilling surrounded by trees.
5. Bring the forest into your home with pictures, screen savers, forest sound recordings and perhaps natural tokens from a special day such as leaves
A little more on Shinrin-yoku
One of the fundamentals of Shinrin-yoku is there is an intention to invite healing, wellness, or greater health and vitality into our lives. It can help to share a specific intention you would like to bring to the walk; for example, something like “I’ve been feeling stressed at work… I feel it in my neck and shoulders. I would like to be more relaxed.”
Forest bathing walks are slower and much more mindful, pausing and becoming very aware of our senses in response to the forest.
It is easy to walk unaware of our surroundings, lost in our own thoughts.
If you follow meditation or mindfulness then use time spent in woods to develop your practice.
Otherwise perhaps remember to spend just a few minutes each visit becoming aware of your senses in the forest. What do you see, feel, and smell?
This was a rough draft that I wrote up a few years ago for Harvest Magazine.