Living in a bustling, concrete jungle like Houston, it’s tough to take the time to remember that spending time in nature may be uncomfortable, but it’s essential to good health.
In Japan, forest bathing is considered the cornerstone of preventative medicine. Forest bathing is known as shinrin-yoku, a Japanese term coined to describe the practice. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.”
Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses, bridging the gap between us, encapsulated in our metal cars, brick homes and concrete buildings, and the natural world. This is a crucial preventative medicine technique as according to a recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors.
According to an organization that studies forest bathing, the scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
Just as impressive are the results reported by those who make forest bathing part of regular practice:
- Deeper and clearer intuition
- Increased flow of energy
- Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species
- Increased flow of eros/life force
- Deepening of friendships
- Overall increase in sense of happiness
Recently I led a group of stressed-out female friends whose kids are about to go to college, forest bathing in the Houston Arboretum. If you haven’t visited lately you will be shocked at all the habitat restoration and new trails, benches and even a new resident alligator that make forest bathing more accessible than ever before in the center of the city. We all agreed after our hour in the forest we felt our shoulders drop, our breathing slow down and our perspective shift from worry and stress to a place of acceptance and peace. Forest bathing at least once a week is our goal, alone or with friends.
How to get a good forest bath
Start by leaving all devices in the car. Ditch your phone, your pedometer, your smart watch. Be in the now and use all five of your senses as you walk away from your car in the parking lot. Let nature in through your ears, your eyes, your nose, mouth, hands and feet. SLOW DOWN and listen to the birds, feel the wind and look at the canopy of trees above you.
Connect with nature by touching the bark of a tree, observing a flower and walking mindfully down the path in silence. Push all intruding thoughts out of your mind for this time and think of nothing but what your senses are telling you. Eventually your sixth sense will emerge, this is a state of mind of relaxation and serenity.
According to experts, with regular practice each of us will find a particular and personal spot, smell or visual cue that will trigger the sixth sense in less time. Try and make forest bathing part of your regular routine and reap the benefits- the sweat is totally worth it and imagine how much more fun it will be when the temperatures are bearable again!