Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Forest Bathing - Prescription for Well-Being

Have you ever taken a bath in the forest?

Chances are, if you like the outdoors, you already have - even if you never got wet at all!

In the midst of leaf peeping season in New England, I chanced upon an article about the practice of forest bathing in Japan. I am often in the woods and it certainly makes me feel better, a sentiment with which all nature lovers would surely agree. Turns out scientific studies in recent years demonstrate that spending time in the forest reduces stress by lowering heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Actively enjoying the visual beauty of the forest, connecting physically with trees, plants and the earth; listening to the sounds of wind, water and birds - all this opens us to bathing in the energy of a place. A healthy forest, as an intact natural system, offers a bounty of good energy, which can elevate our own energies.

Forest bathing is the literal translation of the Japanese term Shinrin-yoku, introduced in 1982 by the Forest Agency of the Japanese Government, which protects and promotes forest preserves where people may go for therapeutic benefits. Shinrin-yoku involves relaxing in the forest to absorb many health benefits.  It can be a simple walk in an urban park or an organized trip to a forest setting with accommodations and excursions over a few days. Physical exertion is actually not necessary - you can gain the same health benefits simply by being present in nature. The health effects have been shown to last long after people return inside. Regular trips to the woods can build health and be part of an ongoing health maintenance routine. Spending time in the forest (as long as you aren't overwhelmed by allergies, biting insects or inclement weather!) can even provide defense against cancer.

Opening the senses, we breathe in aromatic essences of trees, which contain phytoncides - airborne chemicals which protect trees against insects and decay. Breathing phytoncides has been shown to trigger the production of "natural killer" cells which fight directly against cancer in the body.

Having evolved as a species in relation to forests, it makes sense that we are "hard-wired" with nature. I like the Japanese approach to forests for health, backed by science. Now we know why we feel better in nature! Don't let another day go by without spending time among the trees! Autumn is the perfect time to get out and enjoy the woods! Make it part of your personal prescription for better health!

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