How Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing, May Benefit Your Body and Mind
Many people are drawn to activities in natural settings. “Rejuvenating” is a word some use to describe the effect of hiking a mountain trail or taking a meandering stroll along the beach with the surf playing against their toes. A nature therapy developed in Japan in the 1980s may provide a lot more than rejuvenation and give us plenty of reasons to move from our hustles and bustles to a place of peace, healing and empowerment.
Where is this place? It’s all around us, but in the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, a popular preventive healthcare and healing therapy in Japan, the place is the forest. In fact, the name Shinrin-Yoku means “forest bathing.”
Forest bathing is a simple way to become centered and get into the habit of present-moment living.
To do forest bathing, you don’t take a bath under a stand of redwoods. Not literally, anyway. “Bathing” in this sense means walking through a forest and absorbing with our five senses all that nature has to give and teach us. It’s a simple way to become centered and get into the habit of present-moment living, a practice considered highly beneficial by some medical researchers.
Benefits of a Calm Mind and Body
In an interview on ClevelandClinic.org, Scott Bea, a doctor of clinical psychology, says spending time in a forest setting relaxes our brains and creates a peaceful inner environment — an ideal state for healing. “The sights, sounds and smells of the forest take us right into that moment, so our brains stop anticipating, recalling, ruminating and worrying,” Bea says, adding that, “forest therapy involves noticing and sensing things rather than judging or evaluating.”
When we’re in an aware, nonjudgmental state, our minds and bodies benefit. A variety of studies have shown that communing with nature in a forest may:
- Help lower the stress hormone cortisol
- Reduce blood pressure while increasing adiponectin, a hormone that regulates glucose levels and fatty-acid breakdown
- Increase NK (natural killer) cells and intracellular anti-cancer proteins
- Reduce depression, fatigue, anxiety and confusion
Combat Stress and More
Stress is known to contribute to ailments and diseases, like arthritis, skin problems, headaches, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and asthma. Studies have found that therapeutic forest bathing reduces cortisol and other stress hormones while increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (sometimes called the “rest and digest” system), which may lead to lowered heart rate, conservation of energy and a more restful state.
Other benefits attributed to the regular practice of Shinrin-Yoku include:
- Better sleep
- Boosted immune system functioning
- Faster recovery from illness
- Improved mood
- Clearer intuition
- Deeper friendships
Letting go settles us, grounds us and puts us in touch with those who may have recently become strangers: ourselves.
It’s Not about the Exercise
While walking benefits us in many of the ways discussed above, Shinrin-Yoku is not an exercise therapy. Rather, it’s a mindfulness experience that triggers healing throughout our bodies as we change where we place our focus. Deep in the forest, we naturally move into the present and let go of thoughts about our next appointment, the tapping noise under the hood of our car, who wants to befriend us on The-Next-Big-Thingbook and other trivialities that weigh on us in everyday life.
This letting go settles us, grounds us and puts us in touch with those who may have recently become strangers: ourselves. The resulting state is one in which the body can do its best work to heal and empower.
It’s Also Not (Just) About the Forest
Japanese tradition uses the forest in Shinrin-Yoku therapy. But any natural environment may offer the same powerful benefits. Fortunately for us, Nevada is home to such places. There are plenty of locations within a short drive that may be worth exploring. Here are a few you may love:
So why not decide to give bathing therapy a try? Seashore bathing, mountain bathing, rural-road bathing, cornfield bathing — you name it — may all bring you a sense of peace and produce welcome effects in your mind and body.