“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” – John Muir
Shinrin-yoku refers to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Initiated by the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries during the 1980s, it has become a key source of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Both Japanese and South Korean researchers have complied a substantial body of scientific literature on the health return of simply being under the canopy of a living forest for an extended period of time. Their research is helping to establish forest therapy throughout the world.
Shinrin-yoku involves intentionally engaging with nature using all five senses. Sections of the walks are often done in silence.
We have always innately known that walking in the forest produces relaxing, enlivening and soothing benefits. However in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are revealing the systems that support the healing properties of simply bathing the mind and body in greenspace. For instance, many trees emit organic compounds that support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system’s way of fighting cancer.
A leading result of forest bathing may come from breathing in chemicals called phytoncides, produced by trees and plants. “According to one study, women who logged two to four hours in a forest on two consecutive days saw a nearly 40 percent surge in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells.” Phytoncide exposure weakens stress hormones, incidentally strengthening the immune system’s capacity to destroy tumor cells.
Outcomes of studies completed on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku indicate that forest environments could diminish concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, increase parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity compared with city settings. Another finding includes increased ability to focus, even in children with Attention Deficit Hypertension Didorder (ADHD).
Shinrin-yoku is considered to be the most renowned activity related to forest and human health.
This article was originally published for Salt Spring Malas.
(Cover Photo by JM @ Avatar Grove, Vancouver Island, BC)