I have come to view Nature as healing medicine. For what turns your spirit upwards when you walk in a forest? It is the expanse of sky, the sprouting of trees and flora, the feeling of breathing in the fresh air, and being surrounded by millions of living organisms, both seen and unseen. It is the feeling of being connected to nature on a spiritual level. This is healing to the body, mind, and soul. The Japanese coined the term forest bathing or shinrin-yoku to describe what many cultures around the world have known for millennia; that nature is magical, restorative, and healing to both the body and the mind.
This concept of forest bathing is the practice of immersing yourself in nature and consuming it with all of your physical senses. It means letting all of the sights, sounds, tastes, and textures of nature “wash” over you.
In the 1980’s researcher, Dr. Qing Li began to study the physiological effects of being in nature. His studies proved that spending time in nature actually lowered cortisol levels and heart rate. Studies like these have been repeated over the last 30 years with similar results. I highly recommend his book titled Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness
We live in a culture that is so fast-paced that it’s common to experience sensory overload and feel stressed out. Forest bathing is a way of tuning in, through our senses, to what’s around and within us and exploring what feels pleasurable. It’s an invitation to slow down and be still, to notice the light filtering through the pines, to hear birdsong, feel the breeze on your skin, breathe in the earthy smells of loam and mushrooms, notice the textures of trees, rocks, leaves.
By slowing down in this way, you give your brain a break from its constant information processing. You can actually feel your heart rate slow down. Your mind quiets, and you become more in tune with your body’s rhythms and sensations. By connecting more deeply with nature we are able to revive a sense of awe at the natural world, reconnect with our genuine selves, and learn to love and respect other living beings.
This fascination with the powers of nature connection led me to create the Outdoor Apothecary blog so that I could share the wonders and benefits of nature with people like you. People who don’t always give themselves the time and space they need to simply ‘be’.
What do Forests Provide Us?
Forests and trees literally provide us with all that we need to exist.
- Provide oxygen
- Cleanse the air we breathe
- Purify our water
- Help to stop flooding and soil erosion
- Provide food, clothing, and shelter
- Provide material for building and tools
- Provide medicine
Why You Should Start Forest Bathing
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends over 93% of the time indoors—about six and a half of every seven days. All that time indoors generally means less exercise and more exposure to toxins from synthetic building materials, home furnishings, personal care products, pesticides, household cleaners, and more.
Forest bathing means immersing yourself in nature while intentionally opening your senses to absorb all of nature’s healing medicine. Like yoga or meditation, forest bathing is a form of relaxation that involves taking your mind off the stresses of everyday life. But there’s more to it than just that: spending time in nature also gives you physical health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
The great news is that even a little time spent in nature can have a big impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Any time spent outdoors help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and aid in helping you to de-stress and relax. Here are a few of the health benefits of this nature immersion:
- by decreasing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
- by suppressing the body’s ‘fight or flight’ system
- by enhancing the body’s ‘rest and recover’ system
- by lowering blood pressure and increasing heart rate variability
- sleep time increases an average of 15% after a two-hour forest walk
- quality of sleep is improved after forest bathing
- afternoon walks improve sleep quality more than morning walks
Boost the immune system
- increase in the count of the body’s natural pain killer (NK) cells
- it is believed that breathing in the plant chemicals known as phytoncides provides a huge boost to the immune system. These chemicals increased the number of NK cells and enhanced the activity of anti-cancer proteins.
- walking in forest environments has a positive effect on vigor and fatigue and has been proven to increase energy levels and concentration.
- forest bathing reduces anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.
- people who have long term exposure to nature and live where there are trees and green spaces are happier – the positive effects of trees on people’s well-being lasts longer than short-term boosts to happiness such as getting a salary increase or getting married.
Getting Started with Forest Bathing
Forest bathing has developed into a highly profitable industry. Training courses are available for people who want to teach forest bathing, and retreats are available for those who want to be part of a group experience while being immersed in nature. However, for introverts like me, it’s important to note that you can definitely experience the benefits of forest bathing on your own without paying for expensive programs or treatments.
Getting started is easy. Simply spend time outdoors and center yourself in nature. You don’t even need a forest; any natural setting will do as long as you remove yourself from the noise and stress of everyday life.
How Much Time Should I Invest to Reap the Benefits?
- Set aside 2-3 hours weekly to spend time in a forested area or a park with trees.
- Embrace the moment. This isn’t the time to power walk or increase your heart rate.
- Take a slow walk, observing nature around you.
- Stop and smell the roses.
- Take time to explore what interests you.
- Use all of your senses.
- Practice mindfulness. If you find your mind wandering to work or to-do lists, focus on your surroundings, the sounds of the birds or the wind, the scent of the trees.
Spending time in nature helps you to regain focus on the most beautiful aspects of life. As we get caught up in our daily lives, we sometimes forget the beauty around us. Nature provides a natural healing environment and a perfect distraction. Bathing outdoors is a great way to release stress, unwind, and reconnect.
Ways to Enhance the Experience
Several studies have shown that, when we connect with nature, we are reminded that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Faced with the vastness of the universe, we can feel flooded with awe, gratitude, contentment, and happiness. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your forest bathing experience:
1. Turn Your Phone Off
I don’t recommend leaving your phone behind in case of emergency, but turning it off is a must while forest bathing. The key to unlocking the power of nature is to limit distractions and fully engage your five senses to allow nature to enter through your eyes, nose, mouth, skin, hands, and feet.
2. Try Yoga Outdoors
Breathe deeply and focus on relaxing. Take in the sights and smells of the space around you.
3. Eat in the Forest
If you are experienced, forage for wild edible foods (never eat a wild plant unless you are 100% sure of its identity). There is no better way to taste the flavor of a region than to eat the foods that are grown there, especially what is grows naturally and wild there.
4. Go Barefoot
When was the last time you took off your shoes and connected directly with the Earth? If this isn’t something that you regularly do, you’ve been missing out on an amazing experience that can have a profound impact on your health and well-being.
I’m talking about earthing or grounding—a growing movement that focuses on the benefits of connecting to the earth’s natural energy by walking barefoot outdoors.
The theory behind earthing is that our bodies are designed to be in direct contact with the earth, which maintains the electrical potential of the body at earth ground level. Since ancient times, humans walked barefoot and slept on the ground. Today, however, most people are disconnected from this age-old practice and live in insulated environments that protect them from it—homes, offices, and cars—where artificial EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) prevail.
Consequently, we may suffer from chronic inflammation in our bodies due to excessive positive ions in our system. When we walk barefoot on grass or soil, negative ions from the earth enter our body, neutralizing the damaging effects of these positive ions. There is growing evidence that earthing can help reduce pain and improve sleep quality by reducing inflammation and stress.
5. Plan a Tea Ceremony
In Japan, shinrin-yoku walks often end with a tea ceremony involving tea made from wild edible plants of the forest. I love this ritual and find it to be the perfect ending to a meaningful experience like forest bathing.
Bring the Forest Indoors
I like to extend the practice of forest bathing by bringing a sense of the outdoors into my home and believe it or not, you can experience many of the same benefits of forest bathing by doing this. Isn’t that wonderful? You can benefit from nature inside your home too! Here are three ideas to get you started:
1. Fill Your House With Plants
Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they actually improve the indoor air quality of the spaces they fill. This helps you to breathe better since plants are natural air purifiers. Here are the top air-purifying plants according to the Clean Air Study conducted by NASA:
- Mother-in-law’s tongue
- Bamboo palm
- Red-edge dracaena
- Spider Plant
- Snake plant
- Peace Lily
- Golden pothos
- English Ivy
- Gerber daisy
2. Use an Essential Oils Diffuser
I am a huge believer in the power of smell. Smells affect our mood and behavior because they are connected to our emotions and memories. Smells have the amazing ability to trigger immediate emotional responses. With this in mind, using essential oils in your home that invoke the scents of the forest or the earthy smells of the outdoors can create a similar sense of wellbeing that you would get from being directly in nature. No diffuser? That’s okay, woodsy scented candles can do the trick well enough. Here are a few of my favorite woodsy scents:
- Any conifer scent such as pine, spruce, cedar, juniper, or balsam fir
- Tea tree
3. Decorate with Nature
Bringing the outdoors in extends the benefits of forest bathing. Decorating with natural elements makes for a tranquil, serene home atmosphere. Combine natural décor with items you already have that are personal and meaningful to you, and you have a perfect recipe for a cozy, inviting, and relaxed space. So, even if you can’t get out into a forest or other natural setting, you can still connect with nature right in your home since not all of us can be outdoors every day. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Pick wildflowers, small branches or twigs, and any other plant material that you find appealing and put them in a vase where you’ll see them frequently.
- Collect items on your forest bathing walks (acorns, pinecones, small stones, seed pods, etc) and place them on a windowsill or in a decorative bowl when you get home as a reminder of your peaceful time spent outdoors.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out into the woods, or the beaches, or your own backyard garden. Live a life in communion with nature and enjoy the wonders of forest bathing!
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