By Mary Moscarello. To read all of Mary’s blog posts, click here.
The term “forest bathing” has come into prominence in the casual lexicon recently. I’m talking like a couple of years ago recently. In researching for this piece, I noticed it got coverage in mainstream media in 2018 as part of a look at the trend in healthcare known as “social prescribing” – where a doctor may advise a patient to join a bingo night or garden club in lieu of or in tandem with a prescription to treat depression or anxiety most commonly caused by isolation.
As much as that attention lends the reader to think this is a new discovery in medicine and the approach to well-being – it is nothing new.
Unless it is raining when you participate in the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (literally translated to forest bathing) you won’t get wet. There’s a reason we use the term that comes from that Japanese word – not because they invented walking around the forest – it is because in the 1980s, the Japanese government took time to study the effect nature has on various aspects of a person’s health.
Those scientific studies revealed a measurable reduction in blood pressure, cortisol (stress hormone) levels as well as noticeable improvements in concentration and memory after mindful time in the woods. There was also attention paid to natural chemicals released by trees and plants, called phytoncides and the researchers determined those chemicals gave the immune system a boost. Shinrin-Yoku then became an officially recommended activity in Japan’s national health program.
I have always loved forests and being in nature – but lately it seems to call me more strongly. When a day goes by in which I didn’t take time to be outside – I feel, off somehow. It is as if the cool shade of the forest settles my jumbled nerves and evens out the ragged edges of my soul during this seemingly never ending quarantine.
It probably hasn’t been studied or measured since quarantine began in the Northeast, but judging by the constant stream of new faces I see walking around my own neighborhood – lots of people are doing the same thing. Granted, not everyone I see is full on forest bathing – because there’s a mindfulness element that is critical in getting the benefits of the practice, according to the current research on it.
You leave your phone behind.
The idea is to immerse yourself in the forest surroundings. Use all your senses to take it in. Look at the colors. Hear the sounds. Smell – even taste – the air.
I love how yogic this practice seems to me. Of course I view most things through the lens of yoga. There’s a movement element – sure, by virtue of the walking around. I think it is the added mindfulness element of the practice that links it to yoga for me. Observing our surroundings. Being still to hear forest sounds.
There really has never been a better time to start this practice. We all probably have more time to be outside. Even twenty minutes a day can do wonders.
I try to subscribe myself to something I call a formula of three. Three things I try to consistently do to foster a sense of healthy well-being. It includes a daily regimen of self-care, quality family time and time in nature/natural settings. The shape of each part of the formula of three looks different from day to day. No matter how I consume the formula, it rarely fails to achieve the desired effect on my mood.