The Japanese practice wellness with a method called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. This type of forest therapy essentially means to experience nature through the five senses. The idea is to go into a forest and walk mindfully, using all your senses.
The Japanese are among the most stressed people in the developed world. They work the longest hours, they have the world’s third highest suicide rate and are highly competitive at school and in their jobs. The government was so concerned about the stress levels of the population that they initiated a study into the healing properties of forests. And the term ‘‘Shinrin-yoku’’ and its concept were introduced by the Japanese Forest Agency in 1982.
According to studies, forest therapy not only relieves stress, anxiety and depression, it improves cognition, and even raises empathy levels.
Environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have demonstrated that contact with nature restores attention, and promotes recovery from mental fatigue and the restoration of mental focus. (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995).
Even though the majority of the world’s populations live in cities, from an evolutionary perspective, we know that humans have an innate affinity with nature. People talk about ‘getting away’ to the country, the ocean, or the mountains, to unwind and relax.
Sure, taking a stroll through the forest will be a calming experience, but if you want to lower your salivary cortisol concentration (an indicator of stress levels), reduce your anger, fatigue or tension, then spending a few hours in therapy —that’s forest therapy—may be just what you need.
Experiencing nature through the five senses:
- Listen to the sound of nature – birdsong, the sound of the wind in the trees, water in a creek, leaves rustling under your feet.
- Smell the scents around you – the perfume of flowers, the smell of the eucalypts or pine needles, the fecundity of decaying leaves.
- Feel the sunshine coming though the forest canopy, rain on your skin, the texture of leaves and bark of the trees.
- Enjoy the sight of tall trees, the various shades of green of the shrubs and leaves, the different hues in the rocks and colours in the wildlife, watch a butterfly or bee going about their daily business of pollination.
- Drink some forest tea. The needles of spruce or pine trees make delicious infusions with the added value of vitamins and antioxidants. Take a small flask of boiled water with you and just add nature!
Researchers have found that the benefits of a few hours of forest bathing can last for more than 7 days. If you can’t get out of the concrete jungle, take a long, slow walk through your nearest park, open your eyes and ears, touch some leaves and smell the flowers. It’s guaranteed to bring down your blood pressure, restore your mind and relax your body.