When Did you Last go Forest Bathing?
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir
The refreshingly cool water creates eddies around my bare feet as I watch the babbling brook wind its way through the forest. The warm sun dances in patterns on my shoulder as the breeze gently rustles the canopy of green leaves overhead. As I crouch down to get a closer look at a patch of delicate moss on a nearby rock and see how it catches tiny drops from the stream, the smells of rich soil mixed with pine needles fill me with delight. Everything feels so alive here.
Humans have long understood the healing powers of nature. The Japanese even have a practice called the art of “Shinrin-yoku,” which translates to “Forest Bathing.” Developed in the 1980's, Forest Bathing is now a cornerstone of preventative medicine and healing in Japan, and rising interest has spread Forest Therapy around the world. Intuitively, people have long known of the healing, grounding, centering, rejuvenating, and awe-inspiring impacts of immersing oneself in nature. More recently, science has been beginning to unpack why this might be the case.
According to some of the research, Forest Bathing has been shown to:
Reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, lower sympathetic nervous system arousal, and increase parasympathetic nervous system function (source)
Lower blood sugar (source)
Diminish pain (source)
Improve body image (source)
Increase Experiences of Awe and Wonder
“Going to the woods is going home” ~ John Muir
There are many theories about how all of this happens. Scientists have discovered that phytoncides play a significant role. Phytoncides are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds produced from plants that help trees protect themselves from harmful insects, fungi, and bacteria, and also appear to greatly benefit humans (source). Another contributing factor could be the negative ion-rich environment, which has been shown to reduce depression. Sunshine and vitamin D levels could be another factor. The impact of color and green hues is another factor. The physical exercise, increased oxygen, and slower pace all also influence our wellbeing. This article is a good summary of the research about how each of our sense capacities is influenced by forests.
I've been recently fascinated by the microbiome and how many microbes, bacteria, fungi, and viruses we share the planet - and our bodies - with. By some estimates, there are thought to be roughly 10x more non-human microbes in a body than human cells. In this eye-opening podcast from Collective Insights with Daniel Schmachtenberger and Dr Zach Bush, Dr Bush says 2000-2010 was the decade of the brain, but he thinks 2010-2020 will be the decade of the gut. He says the microbiome is an ecosystem in which we humans play only a tiny little part. We are constantly exchanging microRNA, little packets of information, with the environment and the microorganisms that live in and on us. He explains that when he goes outside in the beautiful fall weather and breathes the smells in the woods, "a lot of that is decomposition of the soils and all the leaves falling. That microbiome is exuding exosomes of microRNA so every time I go out and breathe, I get to be plastic with my environment." He continues by explaining how much damage we have done to our microbiome through synthetic fertilizers, glyphosate, and the many toxins to which we are exposed. In order to rebuild gut health, he highly encourages people to go out in nature, garden, play in the dirt, touch plants, and walk barefoot. This may be another important reason why we benefit so greatly from Forest Bathing. Check out Neurohacker Collective for more thought-provoking podcasts,
In Florence Williams' book, The Nature Fix, she travels around the world talking with researchers, educators, and policymakers about the impact of natu