Taking Baths in the Forest
By Michelle Werts
Remember when yoga was just a craze? Now, it’s just a normal part of many people’s workout routines. Might another mind, body, spirit experience from Asia be on its way?
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been noticing the buzz in the environmental world over the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing. We first explored the idea of forest bathing back in 2011 through our magazine article, “A Tree-lined Path to Good Health.” The gist of the practice is to simply go out into a forested area (park, backyard, etc.) and commune with nature. The idea is to absorb the peace and tranquility of your forested surrounding, taking in the smells, the textures and the general environment. If you do this, your body will thank you.
Scientists in Japan, such as Yoshifumi Miyazaki and Qing Li, have discovered myriad physiological benefits to shinrin-yoku:
- Decreases in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, sympathetic nervous activity, blood pressure and heart rate.
- Increases in levels of white blood cells that release anticancer proteins to attack tumors and cells infected by viruses — a benefit that stays with you for a month after the activity.
The practice of forest bathing is so popular in Japan that the country has designated 48 official Forest Therapy trails, which are used by more than 2.5 million people each year, according to Outside magazine.
With our often stress-filled lives, I’m thinking some daily relaxation in a rural or urban forest sounds like just what the doctor, or scientist, ordered. I mean, a glass of wine can be consumed just as easily sitting on a boulder in the forest as in a bathtub, right?