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Words Tamara Batshon

Today we live in a world so demanding that it gives us little time to disconnect and find our inner peace.  Most of us are struggling with extreme sensory overload in our day-to-day lives. Simply too much is thrown at us. Many people succumb to depression, anxiety, and illnesses when their minds and bodies can no longer cope with what is going on.  Many resort to temporary fixes such as anti-depressants, extreme shopping sprees, and even binge drinking. You may want to take up regular forest bathing to de-stress. It provides heaps of benefits.

Health benefits of forest bathing

Forest bathing is not about stripping down and scrubbing off in a lake; it is about being around trees and taking a purposeful walk in their presence. In fact, the Japanese have even coined a word for it – shirinyoku, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere.”  For decades this has been practiced in Japan, in order to combat stress. From 2004 to 2012, Japanese officials spent nearly $4 million studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing, designating 48 therapy trails based on the results. Experts then measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after the exposure to the woods (these cells, which are associated with the immune system and cancer prevention, play a major role in the host’s rejection of both tumors and virally-infected cells). The experts found major increases in NK cell activity in the week after the forest visit, lasting for at least a month.

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”

Henry David Thoreau

One reason is because we are inhaling phytoncide, which is present in the forest air.  It comes from various essential oils, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.  This means that inhaling the fresh forest air actually improves your immune system functioning. Other studies have also shown that when people walk through a forested area, their cortisol levels decrease by 16 percent more than when they walk in a cityscape. In addition, after 15 minutes, their blood pressure levels decrease as well. 

Aside from health benefits, regular forest bathing is encouraged in Japan for the general well-being. It enables a deeper and clearer intuition, increased flow of energy, and an overall increase in the sense of happiness. It also allows us to connect with the land and its species.  The walks also lead to a deepening of friendships and an increase of eros (life force).

Being in the forest resets our nervous system

Unfortunately, we now live in times in which we are chronically stressed. We have developed our capacity to respond to threats in our environment, meaning that our nervous systems are doing something that they’re not designed to do: They’re keeping us constantly a little bit on edge. The effects on our health can be serious, leading to heart disease and high blood pressure, to name a few.  Increasingly, experts are learning about the benefits of forest bathing, with more and more nature walks being organized around the world.  Not to be confused with hiking, these are not strenuous trekking trips, but rather tranquil, languid walks that enable people to take in the atmosphere and even stop and just reflect along the way.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed.

And to have my senses put in tune once more”.

John Burroughs

These nature walks lead to a reset of the nervous system, as people can relax their minds and be in the present moment. Here people are not stuck in traffic, they can get away from their smartphones and social media updates, and they’re not watching the 24-hour news cycle (all of which are pretty stressful). They’re very much in the present moment, taking in the beauty of nature while allowing their bodies and minds to heal. And if you are wondering why nature is so healing, you have to understand that it is pretty much our home. After all, we evolved out of the forests and there’s something really deep in us that has a sense of recognition and connection with forests.