Forest Bathing/Nature Bathing – How Nature Lowers Stress

by admin on July 14, 2014

What is Forest Bathing?

forest-bathingQuite simply, forest bathing is being outside in a natural environment. This could be in a forest, prairie or even a park filled with trees. Forest bathing has been compared to aromatherapy in that an ecotherapy trip involves breathing in volatile organic compounds produced by the trees and soil. These organic compounds are called phytoncides and are antimicrobial. The individual compounds include a-pinene and limonene among thousands of other essential oils. The Forest Agency of Japan first proposed that incorporating forest bathing was necessary for a good lifestyle in 1982. In Japan, forest bathing is a well recognized stress management strategy.

Of course the benefits of forest bathing are much more far reaching than just the aromatherapeutic aspect. As a species, it must be understood that it is in nature where we were created and developed. Our DNA was developed in nature over countless eons. Thus we can conclude that in order for our bodies to reach their optimal state of health, we must be where we are designed to be, nature. An analogy, if we were to spend a month in space, our body would rapidly breakdown. Our bones would decalcify and whither, our lymphatic system would stagnate and our organs would not function properly. Soon our bodies would fail and death would follow. Astronauts can only survive in space via advanced technologies that mimic our natural environment. Likewise, staying inside a house all day is not the environment our bodies need to thrive. We did not biologically develop inside of a modern industrial house.

Is There Scientific Evidence?

forest-bathingSure, common sense dictates that we do best where we were naturally designed, but has science come to agree with common sense? Overwhelmingly, yes it has. A Japanese study was done in 2005 on male and female participants to observe forest bathing effects on immune function. The subjects went on a 3 day/2 night forest bathing trip and had their natural killer immune cells (we want lots of these) and adrenaline (stress hormone that we want less of), by blood and urine, measured on days 2 and 3 of the trip as well as on day 7 and 30 after the trip. On just the second day, both the activity and the total number of natural killer cells increased significantly while the stress hormone adrenaline decreased. Amazingly, the increase in immune function marked by the elevated natural killer cells remained as improved over baseline for over 30 days after the forest bathing trip! More, subjects who took a trip to a city as a tourist did not receive any measured benefits. So one trip into the forest and your body will be working better for over a month after.. Wonderment, simple wonderment.

One of the most in-depth studies was done in Japan. The study involved 280 participants and 24 forests throughout Japan. In this study, forest bathing sessions were only 15 minutes. Stress indicators of heart rate, cortisol levels and blood pressure were measured at baseline, and before and after each forest bathing session. Whether the participants actually walked through the forests or just looked at them, all of the stress markers were significantly reduced after the sessions.

What Do These Studies Mean?

Improved immunity and lowered stress response means less disease and longer life. In fact, natural killer cells cause tumors and virus infected cells to self destruct. Forest bathing consistently can be looked at as a disease prevention and longevity practice. With the lowered stress and raised immune function preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer and more. These studies also show that you do not absolutely have to go into the forest every day though this would bring maximal benefits. If you can only get out there once a week then that will vastly improve your health.

What If I Cannot Get To A Forest?

This is becoming more common in this modern age, deforestation is making many people rich and this will not stop without a global change of conscience. We still can get some of the benefits of nature without actually being in a forest. As mentioned before, a big factor involved in forest bathing health benefits is the aromatherapeutic aspects of it. This is demonstrated in the article “Take two hours in a pine forest and call me in the morning” where the writer demonstrates the power of inhaling the volatile compounds that are found in nature..

“Before taking a drag, I stuffed my right arm into yet another blood-pressure machine. Then we unscrewed the cap of the forest elixir and I inhaled. The oil gave off a nice pitchy, vaguely turpentine scent. We put the cap back on and read my blood pressure again. It had dropped 12 points.”

Though the benefits do come in much greater depth, we derive health benefits from all five senses in nature. Here is how to replicate each forest benefit..

1. Smell- this is the aromatherapeutic aspect just mentioned. You can derive these powerful benefits through aromatherapy. Get an essential oil burner and burn some cypress oil, pure turpentine (natural pine oil), or really any tree or herbal essential oil in your home, they all provide great benefit. Having houseplants provides the same benefit as plants release these compounds into the air. Houseplants also provides forest bathing benefits of cleaning the air. Plants will absorb and neutralize toxic gasses off-gassed in industrial houses which would otherwise be absorbed by you.

2. Sight- Sight is pretty simple. Seeing nature calms us, in fact just seeing the color green does so. Having houseplants is the best strategy here as we get a look at nature and the color green. Also having pictures of nature in the house will be of benefit. If you have trees outside, open those windows up.

3. Sound- The sounds of nature, birds, the wind through the trees, the flowing water. All very calming to us. If you have song birds around, open the windows. Another very effective strategy is to play tapes of nature sounds.

4. Taste- This is a benefit that only the most clever and rewilded forest bathers will receive. A wild or rewilded human will be foraging and tasting plants naturally. There are five flavors that we can taste that all benefit our health. We have taste buds that detect sweet, salty, sour, bitter and acrid flavors because we need foods with all these flavors to maintain peak health. Getting into herbalism (herbs are basically wild foods) is a great start for everyone. Look for herb walks if you do have forests around. Otherwise, make sure to taste all five flavors daily. Most westerners only know and appreciate sweet and salty.

5. Feel- Walking out in the forest, touching the bark, the leaves, the soil.. As children we were drawn to this through instinct. Society domesticated us and as adults it is rare to get our hands dirty. It has been studied that bacterial species in soil, when transferred onto the skin, become part of our microbiome and increase serotonin production. This protects us from depression and also improves learning in children. Asthma protection has also been studied with dirt exposure. So get out into the yard and garden! Touching our house plants and touching and playing with our pets will also provide benefit as well as cuddling with our partners.

Summary

Staying true to our natural human design is the right idea. The farther we stray from nature the sicker and less happy we become. Fortunately the benefits of nature seem to stick to us pretty well. Even one nature walk a week should be enough to keep us healthy. Remember to dive in head first, use all five senses next time you find yourself out in nature. Get out soon and Rewild Thyself. Make it a habit, it could be your most valuable one.

 

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