What better way to celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day than stepping outside? (And who couldn’t use a bit of fresh air right now?) Perhaps you’ve heard of forest bathing, a term for spending mindful, quiet, and purposeful time in forests.
Per The Forest Bathing Institute (TFBI) in Surrey, England, “Research shows that trees really do have healing powers. For one thing, they release antimicrobial essential oils, called phytoncides that protect trees from germs and have a host of health benefits for people. The oils boost mood and immune system function; reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, and confusion; improve sleep and creativity; and may even help fight cancer and depression.”
Indeed, decades of research in Japan and South Korea have established a body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time amongst trees, research TFBI is currently replicating. For those of us who value our connection to nature, this isn’t new information. The combination of oxygen, natural sounds, scent, and the absence of technology slows us down and, that can have a demonstrable effect on our health and well-being.
Per Dr. Qing Li, in his book Shinrin-yoku, The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing, time in nature has been found to reduce blood pressure, lower stress levels, improve cardiovascular and metabolic health, help manage blood-sugar levels, relieve depression, increase concentration and energy, boost the immune system, and reduce pain.
While we’re lucky here in Maine to have forests on our doorstep, even houseplants, pine and cedar essential oils, and walks in parks offer similar benefits. The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy even offers virtual forest therapy walks (for rainy days like today, perhaps…).
While we occasionally offer Forest Bathing classes here at CMBG, you can take yourself out for a walk anytime. TFBI, however, offers the following guidance:
- Remember, it’s not just a walk in the woods
- Slow down, slow way down, even stop. Slow walking will encourage your heart rate and speed of thinking
- Take in your surroundings using all your senses
- Breathe deeply, take in the maximum comfortable amount of oxygen and beneficial chemicals
- Relax, find a spot to sit down and observe
- It might be hard with a dog!
- Touch the trees, do they feel differently to how they look? Explore your fingertip sense of touch
- Listen, can you hear the birds singing? Are you upsetting a squirrel by entering its patch?
- When we are quiet and still, birds and animals will start to get closer. If you are lucky, you will become the witness of an unfolding beautiful natural play. These scenes have the power to move our hearts in surprising ways
- Two hours is the recommended minimum dose of Forest Bathing. Remember, it is a process, our bodies need time to adjust to the relaxing forest atmosphere, you need much longer than 10 minutes to relax deeply
But no matter how you choose to approach nature today, do so with gratitude, a full heart, and in appreciation of your time here.