The act of forest bathing simply means being with trees without agenda.
Recent scientific evidence has supported the health benefits of eco-therapy and the Japanese practice of forest bathing, according to recent reports by Quartz. Forest bathing has been proven to have a wide array of benefits including lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the production of the stress hormone, boosting the immune system, and an overall improvement in feelings of well-being. Forest bathing is a term given to the act of being in the presence of trees. It became part of a national public health program in Japan back in 1982. It was during this time that the forestry ministry coined the phrase ‘shinrin-yoku’ and then promoted topiary as therapy. Spending time in nature and appreciating it for what it truly is is a national pastime in Japan, which meant that forest bathing quickly became a popular practice too.
The practice of forest bathing has been likened to the Japanese culture. Japan’s Zen masters have asked, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound?” relating to the environment’s wisdom. In order to reach the answer to this question, the masters do nothing and gain illumination. Forest bathing involves the simple act of being with trees. Without hiking or any agenda, partakers would simply sit and relax with trees, without feeling the need to accomplish anything. Gregg Berman, a registered nurse, wilderness expert, and certified forest bathing guide in California, said, “Don’t effort”, as he led a small group on the Big Trees Trail in Oakland. He leads the group barefoot amongst the surrounding trees, whilst telling the group that the human nervous system is “both of nature and attuned to it”.
Japanese officials spent around $4 million dollars studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing from 2004 to 2012. They designated 48 therapy trials based on the results of the study. A professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, called Qing Li, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after they had been exposed to the woods. These particular cells provide a rapid response to viral-infected cells, whilst also responding to tumor formation. During a 2009 study, Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity during the week after they had visited the forest. These positive effects then lasted a month, following each weekend in the woods.
Reports claim that these results are due to various essential oils that are found in wood, plants and some fruits and vegetables. The trees emit these particular oils in order to protect themselves from any germs and insects. The air in the forest also means that the inhaling of phytoncide seems to improve the function of the immune system. A forest bathing study on 280 people in their early 20s concluded that, “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.” Therefore, it is proven that being in nature makes individuals calmer in their state of mind, more control in their body’s rest-and-digest system, and a governed fight-or-flight response from the sympathetic nerve system. After spending time in nature, all subjects felt more rested and less inclined to stress. An additional study had been done on the psychological effects of forest bathing involving 498 healthy volunteers. The study surveyed them twice in a forest and twice in control environments. The results showed that they displayed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, together with increased liveliness following exposure to trees. The researchers wrote in their study, “Accordingly, forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes.”
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