HOW NATURE CAN HELP YOU HEAL
WRITTEN BY MARESA GIOVANNINI
In an era marked by excessive screen and indoor time, people are instinctively seeking the comfort and therapeutic values of the natural world. But how do you effectively harness the power of nature? Try forest bathing.
LEARN THE BASICS
The art and science of forest bathing was first studied in Japan (where it is known as shinrin-yoku) in the 1980s in tandem with a campaign to protect forestland. “Some people study forests. Some people study medicine,” writes Dr. Qing Li in his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. “I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being.”
Essentially, forest bathing is spending time outdoors and experiencing it through the five senses. You may spend your time walking, practicing yoga or meditation, or actually bathing—if there is a hot spring nearby. “By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world,” writes Li, the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine. “And when we are in harmony with the natural world we can begin to heal. Our nervous system can reset itself, our bodies and minds can go back to how they ought to be. No longer out of kilter with nature but once again in tune with it, we are refreshed and restored.”
Li’s easy-to-read book includes photographs and diagrams and explores everything from the history of forest bathing to specific activities that can help you maximize the return.
BASK IN THE BENEFITS
High stress was a dangerous epidemic long before the COVID-19 crisis. Your experience during quarantine might have temporarily increased or tempered your stress levels, but it is never too early to be proactive for the future. In addition to helping you reduce stress, forest bathing has been shown to help reduce blood pressure; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; lower blood sugar levels; improve concentration and memory; lift depression; improve pain thresholds; increase energy; boost the immune system; increase anti-cancer protein production; help you lose weight; and decrease anxiety, depression, and anger. Li backs up his claims with plenty of health studies. From a medical standpoint, forest bathing is pretty low risk and high reward.
FIND A FOREST
There are certified forest-therapy bases and trails around the world with guides to help you get started. Some locations even host doctors to provide general health assessments so you can determine the best course of action. Check out the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine for specific information about bases near you. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy is also a great resource. The organization provides a wealth of information and even offered virtual forest therapy sessions while shelter-in-place guidelines were in effect.
The good news is, you don’t need an actual forest for forest bathing. It can be done in a park, garden, or your own backyard. In his book, Li provides creative solutions for practicing at work and home and explores how different environments can have different impacts.
HOW TO “BATHE”
Once you find a green spot that suits you, start your session by walking aimlessly and slowly. Leave your devices at home and don’t rush. The goal is simply to enjoy your time in nature, not to get anywhere. “This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch,” writes Li. “Indoors, we tend to only use two senses, our eyes and our ears. Outside is where we can smell the flowers, taste the fresh air, look at the changing colours of the trees, hear the birds singing and feel the breeze on our skin. And when we open up our senses, we begin to connect to the natural world.”
It is simple, really: People are stressed, and nature helps. “The art of forest bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses,” writes Li. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.”