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Forest Bathing

The practice of consciously connecting and noticing the natural environment around you. This is, of course, not a new discovery. Cultures from all over the world and from different ages have known the sacredness of nature. There are hundred of rituals and deities that are symbolic and in reverence to the natural world. It seems that with the advancement of technology, intentional connection with nature has decreased.

The term, shinrin-yoku, emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”). The purpose was twofold: to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.

In the 1990s, researchers began studying the physiological benefits of forest bathing. There is now science-backed research to support what we innately know - time spent in nature is beneficial. Although Japan is credited for coining the term shinrin-yoku, the practice is not new. Cultures all over the world have been aware of the many benefits of connecting with nature.

Forest bathing is not just beneficial for those who love the wilderness, and you don't even necessarily need to be in an actual forest. The practice can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you, including your backyard or even a stroll through your local park. And if those are not accessible, making the effort to notice the plants growing through cracks in the sidewalk and the birds hanging out on telephone wires can have some beneficial effects - even if to simply to slow down, be in the present moment, and notice that even though we have built concrete jungles around us, the natural world is still very much a part of it all.

Excess stress is known to play a role in many ailments such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, skin conditions, and asthma. Stress can also have a detrimental effect on the immune system, overall. Spending time in nature allows the stressed portions of your brain to relax. Positive hormones, such as serotonin, are released in the body, helping you feel less sad, angry and anxious. It is soothing and nourishing for the nervous system, building resiliency to stress and burnout, and aids in fighting depression and anxiety. Nature has a positive effect on our mind as well as body. It improves heart and lung health, and is known to increases focus, concentration and memory.

Certain trees, such as cedar, oak, locust, and pine release an airborne chemical compound, phytoncide. It is a safeguard for themselves and other plants from microbes and pathogens. Phytoncides are good for our immunity as well. Studies show that breathing in the forest air boosts the level of natural killer (NK) cells in our blood. These cells are used in our body to fight infections, cancers and tumors. Other benefits of phytoncides include increased skin health, lowered cortisol (stress hormone) levels, better sleep, lowered blood glucose levels, and lessened inflammation. - Just one more reason to love the trees!

Another benefit of forest bathing is the opportunity to experience the natural world and the opportunity to become aware of the importance of protecting it. With global warming, fracking, greenhouse gases, and all the other factors, it is so important to protect our natural areas. These places are not only a wonderful way to escape the busyness of modern life and offer many benefits to our personal well beings, they are also crucial to keeping the planet healthy. They help regulate the planet's temperature; keep ecosystems thriving with diversity (which we are very much a part of!); filter toxins (easier when there are not an excess of toxins in the environment); provide us with the oxygen we breathe everyday.

(2) Gas exchange in trees involves two separate but complementary events.

These are:

  1. Respiratory gas exchange, which is similar to the process in humans whereby oxygen is brought into the organism and carbon dioxide is removed, and cells in the tree consume plant carbohydrates (for example, starch) to produce energy; and

  2. Photosynthesis, which is the reverse of this. Here, sunlight (energy) is combined with carbon dioxide and water to produce carbohydrates and oxygen. This is, without a doubt, the most important biochemical reaction on the planet and provides us with the oxygen we need in order to stay alive.

So, whether you're venturing out to the back country on a backpacking trip or simply taking a stroll through your local park, everyone can benefit from a little Forest Bathing. Please refer back to last week's blog on how to participate in this practice in a respectful way.



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