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Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

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 is much scientific research into the very real health benefits for us of being within a woodland.

Forest bathing is the practice of immersing ourselves in, or slowly passing through a forest or woodland. It affects all the senses and we breathe deeply, the essential oils of the trees (phytoncides) are absorbed by our body, having 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.

As we move through the forest we bring our rhythms back in line with nature, and our nervous system, bodies and minds can re-set themselves. We will feel refreshed and re-vitalised.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) expects stress related illness, such as mental health disorders and cardio-vascular disease, to be the two largest contributors to disease by 2020. With a reduced connection to nature combined and with increased pressures of every day life and overpowering technological advances (technostress), we have less opportunity to recuperate our mental and physical energy. Spending time in a forest activates the Vagus nerve, which is responsible for inducing calm and regeneration. Spending just one single day in a wooded area increases the number of natural killer cells in the blood by almost 40 percent on average.

Some interesting facts:

· You only need to spend two hours in a forest to see the beneficial effect of Forest Therapy

· Forest bathing once a month is enough to maintain a high level of natural killer cell activity.

· Women’s moods seem to be more affected by forest bathing than men’s.

· Forest bathing can help you sleep. Research in Japan 2006 showed that the average sleep time of participants after a two-hour forest walk increased by 15%, or 54 minutes.

· Forest bathing lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. It improves your cardiovascular and metabolic rate.

· Forest bathing improves your 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.

· Phytoncides are the natural oils emitted by the trees a forest. The main components of phytoncides are terpennes. These are all proven to help with anxiety and lift depression. They also increase the NK cell activity and presence of anti-cancer proteins perforin, granzyme A and gransulysin.

· There is a common and harmless bacteria which is released when we walk in the forest, it is called Mycrobacterium vaccae and it makes us feel happy. This is because it stimulates the immune system - and a boosted immune system makes us feel happy!

· Spending time in nature can boost problem-solving ability and creativity by 50%. ‘Is it any wonder Buddha found enlightenment sitting under a tree?’

· Researchers have shown that we become more helpful and caring after watching David Attenborough’s Planet Earth and looking at pictures of breathtakingly tall trees. Looking at nature increases our levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines. These are proteins that make our immune system work harder which gives a positive boost to our health.

· There is no medicine that you can take that has such a direct influence on your health than a walk in a beautiful forest.

· ‘Soft fascination’ is an involuntary attention that requires no mental effort, it just comes naturally. This is the kind of attention we use when we are in nature. Our minds are effortlessly captivated by clouds and sunsets, the movement and sounds of the wind in the leaves, waterfalls and streams. This leads us into a meditative state which allows us to reflect and restore our capacity to think more clearly.

· Many studies have shown that hospital patients who have a ‘green’ view need less medication and are discharged sooner than patients who have no window or look out to a wall.

· When trees die, people die. The US Forest Service found that in places where ash trees had been affected by emerald ash border disease (100 million so far) mortality rates were higher – specifically the rates from cardiovascular and respiratory tract disease which are two of the most common causes of death in America

· The art of forest bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses

· Natural silence has been called one of the most endangered resources on the planet. Silence is considered such a precious commodity that the US National Park service has put a protection order on it in the middle of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington State.

** Source: ‘Shinrin-Yoku. The Art & Science of Forest Bathing’. By Dr Qing Li 2018 **