Shinrin Yoku – It sounds like something on the local takeaway menu or maybe a mysterious Japanese rice wine however, Shinrin Yoku is the art of ‘Forest Bathing’. Developed in 1980’s Japan, it is a Japanese pastime that promises complete mental and physical rejuvenation. The simple art of Forest Bathing involves stretching, meditating, inhaling tree aromas, eating healthily and appreciating beautiful flowers. Pretty much indulging in all things forest!
I am a firm believer that the outdoors and nature can have a huge positive impact on our mental well-being. Be it a simple stroll through the forest, sitting on a bench by the lake or even getting out and climbing that mountain!! Well maybe that’s not for everyone, but sadly as a society we are spending less time outside and more time plugged in. Iv’e previously written an article on the benefits of Nature for Mental Health and I seem to be reading about It more often recently. I first came across articles on Shinkrin Yoku last year and immediately loved the idea.
People often tell me they love listening to the sound of the rain outside whilst laying in bed as it’s very therapeutic and relaxing. The sounds and ambiences of nature creating a calming zen. A birds call, running water and thunder. There are even apps available to download to your phone that allow you to immerse yourself in all sorts of calming sounds from nature to instruments etc in your own home. I use such apps myself which are great but there really is nothing like the real thing!! After all, our sense of smell, taste and ability to touch are very important factors in our sensory experiences and you can’t smell or touch nature from an app on your phone! (Although someone somewhere is probably trying to create it – Heston?)
Forest bathing or Shinrin Yoku, is scientifically proven to improve health. According to countless Japanese studies, it boosts the immune system, reduces stress hormones, enhances mental wellness and bolsters brain health. One report even claims it lowers blood glucose levels among diabetes sufferers. It was in the Eighties that the phrase ‘forest bathing – Shinrin Yoku’ was poetically coined by government officials at the Forest Agency of Japan. Its goal? To encourage healthier lifestyles by taking regular walks in specially designated forests. It has become a cornerstone of traditional Japanese healing by emphasising the restorative benefits of walking leisurely through nature.
One Shinrin Yoku study had people walk down a path in an urban area and then walk through a forest. Those who strolled through the forest showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate. These results were attributed to the grounding effect, which has been shown over time to reduce inflammation in the body. Since many of us don’t come into direct skin contact with the Earth very much, a positive charge builds up in our bodies. Direct contact with the Earth acts as a “ground” (in the same way it does for electrical outlets), reducing this extra positive charge. And it’s as easy as standing barefoot in grass, sitting on a rock or resting against a tree for a few minutes each day. Not exactly strenuous!
If like me you live in the UK, you may be interested to learn that forest bathing has made it’s way to us! Faith Douglas discovered it whilst practising Reiki and Mindfulness and offers forest bathing as a therapeutic activity in North Yorkshire – check it our here – Forest Bathing UK
A lot of people in urban areas may worry about their access to nature, or lack of it however, many urban city projects have popped up recently across the country and have created initiatives to enable access to green space. Often these projects give people from deprived urban areas the opportunity to experience the natural world and conserve wildlife on green spaces close to their homes. It is worth looking into such schemes in your local area and locating your nearest green space as it may not be as far away as you think.
As long as people are educated in the benefits of nature and how they can access it, I believe nature can give us all a helping hand and even change our lives!!!