When was the last time you stood in a forest? (Or, ‘the bush’ as it is most often referred to in Northern Ontario?)
When you did, did you feel … better? Invigorated, joyful or even just content, a little less stressed, a little more calm?
If you did, you were feeling the effects of Shinrin-yoku, or ‘Forest-Bathing.’
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese practice of immersing yourself in nature, making sure to mindfully use all five senses while you do so. Developed in the 1980s, forest bathing is simply walking through a forest environment, allowing your senses to pick up on the outside world, but without the overstimulation that can often come with busy city lives. In a sense, it is stopping to smell the roses.
With a focus on mindfully using the senses, smelling flowers, listening to birds, noting the different shades of green that grace each tree and touching them gently with your fingertips, the brain can decompress, it is focused on these small sensory experiences, freeing it from the drain of everyday life.
It is not about hiking, or any overly athletic pursuit, so it is also perfect for those who may not feel up to conquering Mother Nature. Forest bathing is more about standing in the trees, letting your senses drink in the surroundings, and really, just slowing down for a little while.
During the 1980s, Shinrin-yoku became a pivotal part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. The reported research findings show small improvements to the immune system, the cardiovascular and respiratory system, depression and anxiety, an increase in the ability to focus and an increase in “human feelings of awe”, that is, gratitude and selflessness.
Though more studies are needed, early results suggest that natural environments may have direct and positive impacts on well-being.
Though there is research from a different angle that would support the idea of well-being through the forest. Another meta-study looking at the physiological effects of 'nature therapy' found in early results that there could be preventative aspects to the ideas behind forest bathing as well.
In one study reviewed, the authors concluded that forest therapy decreased the levels of salivary cortisol, a typical stress hormone, decreased the pulse rate, and decreased the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. These findings show that viewing or walking around a forest environment for a 15-minute session of forest therapy induces a state of physiological relaxation. The results were almost identical to those of an experiment conducted on 420 participants in 35 locations.
But if all this all sounds a bit new age woo-woo hippie to you, perhaps Paracelsus, the 16th century Swiss-German physician who pioneered the use of minerals and other chemicals in medicine, can change your mind: “The art of healing comes from nature,” he said. “Not from the physician.”
While this is certainly an oversimplification, maybe head out to the bush, just to give it a try.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at Sudbury.com. Coping is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.