January 18, 2019

In an age where being healthy emotionally, mentally, and physically is desirable but often stressful, challenging, and unaffordable, the unearthing of nature therapy may be the gift we've needed, waiting right outside our door. Shinrin-yoku or "forest bathing" is the Japanese practice of walking in the woods to improve one's well-being. Incredibly, this simple practice aids one's energy levels, immune system, and reduces the effects of depression and stress.

It's Not Magic; It's Science!

If you've spent time in nature, you probably won't be surprised to hear that taking a walk in the woods can lift one's spirits. What may shock you to learn is research-based evidence exists backing the validity of these good feelings. Dr. Qing Li, Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine wrote in his 2018 book, "Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health And Happiness," about how he collected evidence proving time in nature advances a person's well-being. In 2004, he conducted a three-day experiment taking twelve healthy men into the Iiyama forests of Japan. There, Li writes, he learned nature therapy can:

  • Increase the count of natural killer (NK) cells; thereby boosting the body's immune system.
  • Improve energy
  • Lift depression
  • Lower stress
  • Improve metabolic and cardiovascular health
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower blood-sugar levels
  • Increase anti-cancer protein production

The list goes on! Now countless studies have been conducted on nature immersion; revealing the wonders it works on the human body and mind.

Is There a Right Way to Forest Bathe?

Not necessarily, but you can take steps to soak up all nature has to offer. The first and possibly most obvious is not to bring your devices. Leave them behind! The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy recommends giving yourself at least 40 minutes to receive shinrin-yoku's benefits. Shinrin-yoku translates directly to "taking in the forest through our senses." You want all five senses exposed to your surroundings. Let your eyes wander, taste the air, be still and listen, inhale through your nose to smell your environment, and of course hug that tree! Going barefoot is another enjoyable way to "get in touch" with nature. Lastly, bring a great big (reusable!) water bottle to stay hydrated.

From the Forest to the Foyer

Astonishingly, you can bring the organic goodness of nature therapy inside! A 1989 NASA study revealed houseplants filter the air of the toxic chemicals formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene. Each of which are found in everyday household products. A later study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology discovered that "active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress." Houseplants also improve air quality by taking in the carbon dioxide you exhale, in turn releasing valuable oxygen you inhale. Some plants mentioned in the NASA study you may already have in your home, including Peace Lilies, English Ivy, Azaleas, Chrysanthemums, and Spider Plants.

Wherever you are, be it encompassed by trees, grassy plains, desert shrubs, the sea's waves, or the city park, this much is clear: humans need nature; we want to hug the trees!