"Heaven is under our feet
as well as over our heads."
Henry David Thoreau
We live in a world bombarded with stimulation. Traffic lights, artificial light, technology, and noise pollution bombard us all day, every day. At the same time chronic disorders, anxiety, and depression are on the rise. Does nature hold the solution?
Forest bathing, as it's now known in English, originates from the Japanese word shinrin-yoku. It means 'taking in the forest' and represents the healing that can take place when spending time in in the forest. Originally a strong part of Japanese healing and culture, the concept has recently spread to the western world. But how is it so powerful?
It has been conclusively proven that spending time outside is good for us, and intuitively we know that. Here are some reasons as to why its so powerful.
Reduces risk of common diseases
Studies show that forest bathing can reduce the risk of "type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure." (1) People who seek and spend time in nature also report living happier lives and having a better mood.
Lowers stress hormones
Put simply, "studies show that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster and better in natural environments than in urban settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the level of "stress hormones" all decrease faster in natural settings." (2)
Improves the respiratory system
Instead of breathing polluted city air, forest air is pure and fresh. Forest air also contains chemical called phytoncides. They are tree essential oils that have medicinal properties.
Phytoncides, among other effects, increase the production of Natural Killer Cells in the body. These cells are cancer-fighting and literally seek and destroy virus-ridden and tumor cells.
How to do it
You may be thinking about how there's no forest near where you live. That's completely fine! The studies that have shown all these amazing effects define green space as "open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery." Yes, this means spending time at the park or in the lawn scientifically counts as forest bathing.
It's pretty self-explanatory how to practice forest bathing – spend time in green spaces. But there are ways you can improve the quality of your forest bathing and get even more health benefits.
Take off your shoes
Taking off your shoes and feeling the grass with your feet not only feels relaxing but is beneficial. What's called a strong foot, developed from barefoot activities, "can greatly improve balance and posture and prevent common injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon." If the ground is appropriate, take them off!
Do nature exercises
While you are forest bathing, doing some simple exercises can help improve your connection with nature. Below are some useful examples.
Count how many sounds you can hear. What are they and where do they originate?
Feel the ground under your feet.
Notice different colours – can you find anything red? yellow?
Focus on your breath, in and out through your nose. Can you sync it with your footsteps?
What smells are present?
My personal forest bathing experiences
TULIAN Lake at 12,000 feet
near Pahalgham, Kashmir
4 Aug 2021
It is a serene and picturesque lake in the mountains, surrounded by glaciers. We reached it after a hike/ascent of 8 kms/4000 feet from Baisaran, through a lovely pine forest. Taking off my shoes and stepping into the water was a chilling yet relaxing feeling. Relished soaking in the pristine beauty of this untouched lake.
AVALANCHE & EMERALD Lakes
1 Jan 2021
A short hike through a forest brought us to the Avalanche hill top for a gorgeous view of the these beautiful lakes. Pleasant sun and incredible greenery made it a super nature experience.