Tuesday, August 28, 2018

May the Forest Be With You

By Paula O’Neill, MS, RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

Recently I was visiting my daughter. Hanging on her wall was a framed print she had recently purchased during her trip to Maine. The print read, “May the Forest Be With You”. Little did she know that this print expressed the essence of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.

According to www.shinrin-yoku.org, shinrin-yoku is a term that means, "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." Developed in Japan during the 1980s it has become an important part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine; and it is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

So what are some of the health benefits of shinrin-yoku? Studies have demonstrated that forest bathing can:

• Lower blood pressure and heart rate
• Improve immunity
• Decreases cortisol (stress hormone) levels
• Improve sleep
• Improve mood and sense of well-being
• Increase creativity

There are a few thoughts as to why shinrin-yoku can produce these health benefits:

• Connecting with nature by walking in the forest, away from technology and our stressors, helps us feel relaxed.
• Trees release natural, scented oils called phytoncides. Phytoncides are responsible to protect trees from bacteria, insects and fungi. Dr. Qing Li, a researcher from Japan, found that exposure to phytoncides leads to increased activity and number of natural human killer cells, cells important to a healthy immune system. Phytoncides were also found to decrease stress hormones.
• There is a microbe in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, that when inhaled, helps to elevate mood.

Now that you’re ready to forest bath, here are some tips:
• Leave your phone and technology behind. This is your time and you don’t want to be distracted.
• This is neither a hike nor a powerwalk. Slow down…take your time. Use your senses to experience everything around you. As Dr. Li recommends, “Touch the trees, taste the air, breathe in the fragrance of the forest, behold the multitude of colors, listen to the wind blow and the birdsong.” 
• Immerse yourself in the forest!

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