Have you heard of Shinrin-Yoku?
Over the years we have welcomed many tired and weary guests to Forest Garden Shovelstrode. However when guests are being walked down to their yurt or cabin, meandering through the ancient woodland and being completely immersed in nature, there is an almost immediate and noticeable change in their alignment. After only a few hours in the woodland the stresses and strains seem to lift. People have remarked at how their sleep and mood has greatly improved. Seeing the big smiles on the many faces after a couple of days in the woodland lead us down a path of exploration into the very real benefits of being within a forest.
Humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections and develop an affinity with nature and other forms of life. This love of life is called Biophilia, taken from the Greek meaning for ‘love of life and living systems’ and it was coined by German born, American psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm [1900-1980]. After Fromm’s death, the evolutionary biologist and Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson adopted this term in 1984 and believed that because we evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it.
We all know that nature makes us feel good, though we are seemingly unaware of the power of nature or of our inherent desire to be surrounded by it. Many people have written books and poems about it, Syliva Plath, Philip Larkin, Rudyard Kipling for example. Artists such as Van Gogh, Monet have painted nature in all its different forms. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and rejuvenate us. But perhaps in our turbo driven, technology led lives we have forgotten about this very valuable resource that we have at our disposal.
Forests are often referred to as ‘the lungs of the earth’. They are vital to our existence and wellbeing in so many ways. They help produce oxygen, purify our water and also help prevent flooding and erosion. They provide us with food and clothing. They provide materials for tools and building shelter, houses and temples. And since the beginning of time forests have helped heal our wounds and cure diseases.
Shinrin-Yoku is a term created by Akiyama, the Director General for Japanese Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries in the 1982. It literally means ‘Forest Bathing’. There has been much scientific research into the very real health benefits for humans of being within a forest.
Forest bathing is the practice of immersing ourselves in, or slowly passing through a forest or woodland. It affects all the senses and, as we breathe deeply, the essential oils of the trees (phytoncides) are absorbed by our body. This has a profound effect on positive feelings, stress hormone levels, sympathetic nervous (fight or flight) activity, parasympathetic nervous (rest & recover) activity, blood pressure, heart rate and brain activity.
Forest bathing improves our immune system by increasing the number of natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are a type of white blood cell that attack and kill unwanted cells. They do this with the help of anti-cancer proteins: perforin, granulysin and granzymes. These proteins drill holes in cell membranes and this causes the target cells to die. People with higher NK activity show a lower incidence of diseases such as cancer. Research in Japan showed that Forest Bathing increased NK cell activity by 53.2%.