The Japanese have known for years that spending time carefully in the woods has a beneficial effect on the body and soul. Relax, connect with nature and improve your health with the scientifically proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku, otherwise known as forest baths.
What is Shinrin-yoku?
Simply put: Shinrin-yoku forest baths are a return to nature to relax, soothe your senses and immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere.
This practice originated in Japan in the late 1980s, also known as forest therapy, was named “Shinrin-yoku”, which literally means “forest bath”. This bathing in the forest takes place at a much slower pace than a regular walk and is aimed at carefully paying attention to the surrounding nature. It is not about overcoming a specific distance, raising the heart rate or even physical activity in general. Shinrin-yoku is a powerful antidote to the pressures of the modern world and has been proven to provide lasting benefits to your physical and mental well-being and to help cultivate a deep connection with nature around us.
The goal of forest therapy is to consciously slow down and immerse yourself in the natural environment.
What are the benefits of Shinrin-yoku?
Thanks to the analysis of specific biomarkers, we know what is happening in the body while in the forest. The level of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) lowers, the heart rate slows down, and the blood pressure drops. All these indicators show a reduction in stress levels.
Japanese scientists have conducted a lot of research on the benefits of forest bathing, concluding that it deserves its place in the Japanese health care system. Research in the area of connection with nature suggests that the long-term benefits of spending time in nature include reducing stress, improving the body’s immunity, lowering blood pressure, and accelerating recovery from illness or injury, among others. Shinrin-yoku is a wonderful and rewarding practice for both physical and mental well-being. It has been shown to reduce the production of stress hormones, promote happiness and creativity, and boost the immune system and overall well-being.
Forest bathing and benefits for mental health
Reduced tension and stress, better mood, better ability to concentrate and increased creativity are just some of the positive effects of forest baths.
The Nature Connectedness Research Group at Derby University has researched the benefits of Shinrin-yoku and found that it supports the ‘3 Circles’ model – circles refer to the pursuit of joy, seeking peace and avoiding threats, each condition stimulating other hormones. There are three types of emotion regulation systems – Threat System, the Drive System, the Soothing System. Scientists have found that our reaction to the forest is emotional. Nature balances these three circles, leading to happiness and mental well-being, which of course also affects our physical health.
Natural England also analyzed a number of studies on relationships with nature and found, among other things, that “most studies show that spending time or being active in the wild has positive effects on anger, fatigue and sadness.”
A 2012 study in the US showed a 50% increase in creative problem solving by a group who spent four days in nature, disconnected from their electronic devices. The meditative nature of forest baths cuts off the distraction of modern life and frees the mind.
Following the introduction of Shinrin-yoku into their health care model, the Japanese continue to research its effects and consistently use the practice to improve and alleviate a range of emotional and physical states.
How to practice Shinrin-yoku forest baths?
When you immerse yourself in a forest bath, it becomes easier to achieve a calm state of mind. By paying attention to our senses and moving consciously in the forest, we can not only get all the benefits of meditation for our mind, but also strengthen immunity and take care of the health of our body.
What’s the main difference between a regular walk in the park and Shinrin-yoku?
Mindfulness. The goal of Shinrin-yoku is not only to spend time in nature and take a long walk, but also – if not mostly – to carefully observe what surrounds us.
Make sure you leave your phone at home. Move aimlessly and slowly through the forest. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to the signals coming from the body and your own intuition. Go wherever it wants to take you. Do not rush. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get far. Enjoy the sounds, smells and views of the surrounding forest and the closeness to nature.