Shinrin-Yoku. A term that means ‘forest bathing’ or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ – sounds attractive, right? Well it’s been around in Japan since the 1980’s, but it’s only just catching on in the Western world. When it comes to preventative health care and healing it has become a cornerstone in Japanese medicine. Much research has been done into the effects of regular Shinrin-Yoku sessions and this work is helping to establish forest therapy throughout the world as a way to relax and reap numerous health benefits.
So how does it work?
Its very simple. Being surrounded by nature, and connecting to the world around you relaxes and rejuvenates you. I’m pretty sure you will have experienced this at some point. Who hasn’t taken a walk in a natural area or woodland, and come back feeling a whole lot more relaxed or energised? Considered the lungs of the Earth, forests inhale greenhouse carbon dioxide and exhale water vapor and oxygen. Trees give off organic compounds that support our NK cells (natural killer) that are part of our immune systems way of fighting cancer. They emit phytoncide, an essential oil found in wood and plants to protect themselves from germs and insects, and this is what benefits our health too. Forest bathing creates calming neuropsycholigical effects through changes to the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system.
Scientifically proven benefits of Shinrin-Yoku:
Reduced blood pressure and stress levels
Improved mood, energy levels, sleeping patterns
Increased ability to focus the mind
Find a woodland, or forest and walk at a leisurely pace. If you can, go barefoot! Combine the ‘grounding’ that I covered in a previous Blog and you’ll have a real digital detox (if you of course you leave, or switch off your phone)!
Practise deep, slow breathing and smell the forest aroma’s. Open your senses. Look around you. Listen to the sounds. Find a place where you can stop, stand or sit and just focus your mind on one thing – your surroundings.
If you walk with others, agree not to talk whilst you’re walking. Talk about- and share your experiences afterwards.
You could close your eyes, breathe deeply (smell), and just listen.
Or with your eyes open, focus your vision on one thing – for instance a flower, or plant, or tree bark, and really look at it and appreciate it’s beauty.
Become aware of the depth and tempo of your breathing. As you become more relaxed it will be deeper and slower.
But if you find your mind is still overactive and you have all sorts of thoughts pop-up into your head, just let go of those thoughts, imagine them being clouds that pass you by, and come back to focus on the art of relaxing and letting go.
You might like to add some stretching exercises, or yoga.
Nature therapy is just as important as working out.
I do this every day, as those of you who are my friends on Facebook know! I live in a beautiful rural area and love to be out in the gentle rolling hills and the woodlands, it does relax me. I give into the slower pace of life, into the rhythm of the seasons. I observe my surroundings and take in the beauty. I breathe deeply. If I feel the need, I find a spot to sit or stand, or lean against a tree and just focus my mind. If I have a problem, I often feel by being outside I can detach more easily from it, observe it in a less biased way, and often come back with the solution, or feel less stressed about it. It gives me just as much satisfaction as undergoing an exercise session. My favourite thing is to actually combine the two… my Chilates / yoga / meditation – outdoors. If you’re someone who does work out regularly, for the perfect physical and mental health balance make sure you get some quiet, downtime too in the great outdoors.
I blame it on the dog!
Ecotherapy is now definitely a priority in my life, and has been ever since I got my dog, Molly. I blame her really for wanting to live in the countryside. When I got her 9 years ago, I was living in the centre of Amsterdam and perfectly happy, but because of her I spent a lot of time going to the beach or areas of the country (the Veluwe) where we could take long, rural and forested walks. These trips made me realise how much good it did me to surround myself with nature and be one with the great outdoors. And this was the reason for my move. I could never live in a city again. I really need and enjoy my daily ecotherapy fix! Thanks Moll!