The Gifts of Nature : Japanese Forest Bathing
Refreshing our connection with Nature . . .
Nature gives us many gifts, and sometimes we need to see them with a fresh mind.
History shows us that even if we sometimes forget it, we rely on nature to feed us and nurture us, and when we neglect nature as part of our lives, our spiritual and physical bodies can suffer. Just as they can suffer we can also use nature to heal us. On a global scale a country who has recognized the benefits of nature is Japan, who has invested in Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing.
What is Shinrin-Yoku? It loosely translates to “forest basking”. The program believes that being in the presence of trees improves your physical health, mental health and our immune systems. Japanese zen masters have been fascinated with trees since the ancient times, (If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears does it make a sound?) and it has continued with specialists today. 45% of Japan is made up of forest and trees, and as such it has been made into a national program with proven studies that taking some time with nature is a proven benefit.
In 1982 Japan made forest bathing a part of the national public health program. They spent 4 million studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing. The conclusion? They found that activity of Natural Killer Cells, ( cells that provide rapid response and treatment to tumor formation and viral infected cells) had a significant increase in the human body after one weekend in the woods. It even showed that these positive effects lasted up to a month.
This is due to an essential oil called Phytoncide. This oil is found in wood, plants and some fruits and vegetables. The trees emit this oil to protect themselves. The study also showed that inhaling Phytoncide also improves your immune system.
Another study by The Center for Environment and Health and Field Science at Chiba University came to the conclusion that, Forest environments promote lower concentration of Cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood sugar, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity than city environments.
Forest bathing also helps to sooth the soul. A study on forest bathing psychological effects surveyed 498 healthy people twice in a forest and twice in a controlled environment. The subjects showed significant reduced patterns in hostility and depression coupled with increased liveliness after being exposed to trees.
Forest bathing has even become a career for some who choose to guide people on their journeys, with over 3,000 trained Forest Bathing guides in the USA. These guides encourage you to use all your senses and take in the surroundings – the same ways we have invited guests to reconnect to nature for the past 20 years at the Edge. You don’t need a guide to experience forest bathing in your own backyard, however. Simply find a space you love in nature, close your eyes, and imagine you are seeing the world for the first time.
This is all to say that science backs what we’ve known all along. Do we not love a walk in the forest to clear our minds? We know that watching the waves ripple towards us gives us a sense of calm. Nature has always been a natural remedy for us. Perhaps this is just more incentive for being eco-friendly: if we preserve and heal nature, we are also healing ourselves.