What if I told you there was a natural therapy that boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, improves sleep, reduces stress, increases energy, increases focus, and speeds the recovery from surgery…..and, is free!!! I’m guessing you would say… “I definitely want some of that!”
Turns out the healing power of nature is not just the innate inner healing force that is the primary principle of Naturopathic Medicine, but is literally true in that being in a forest does have physiological health effects, and it’s called Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing). This term was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. There are many studies that have been published on the effects of forest bathing, but one published paper reviewing previous research highlights the essentials. (Park B, et al. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku: evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):18-26 ) They conducted field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. In each experiment, 12 subjects, with a total of 280 individuals, walked in a forest or city area for approximately 16 minutes and viewed a forest or city area for approximately 14 minutes. The results of this study demonstrated that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than the city walking and viewing.
One of the mechanisms of forest bathing is that you breathe in phytoncides, (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees, and include a-pinene and limonene. But the healing power of nature does not stop at just the one sense of odor, but also the effects on all the five senses including listening to the sound of a running stream and taking in the beauty of the forest scene.
As precious forests in the West are burning this summer due to extensive droughts and extended hot weather, it only continues to remind me of the profound nourishment and fundamental human importance of our natural surroundings. I could go on and on, but then you’d have to keep reading and this would keep you from being out in nature, amidst the beauty and healing power of the forest.