Have you ever just gone for a walk in the woods, with no agenda or destination in mind? If not, now might be the time to give it a try. The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented health, social, and economic crisis, which has had a direct and significant impact on mental health around the world.
In addition to the stress the pandemic has brought on, modern life can be overwhelmingly busy as it is. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we humans spend about 87% of those busy, stressful days indoors. The hours spent on Zoom, watching television, or scrolling social media adds to the physical and mental health strain.
We should not overlook the simple act of spending time in nature is amongst conventional health resources. The benefits of being in nature include enhanced immune function, stress reduction, and in turn the reduction of stress-related issues. These issues include diseases like depression, anxiety, and even things like diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.
Time in the fresh air can help you focus, improve your mood, sleep, and recover from illness. Some programs have been started recently which offer free nature therapy for health care workers as a way to ease pandemic-related stress.
The name of the nature therapy process that these health care workers are being guided through is called Forest Bathing.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing, also known as forest therapy or ‘Shinrin-yoku’ is an ancient practice born out of Japan. With a large amount of scientific evidence surrounding the health benefits of being in nature, forest bathing emerged as a pivotal part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine in the 1980s.
How Does It Actually Help Me?
Did you know that spending 15 to 40 minutes in the forest can lead to a decrease in stress levels! Breathing deeply in nature helps oxygenate the lower regions of your lungs become oxygenated leading to a decrease in cortisol.
As it turns out, trees give off something called phytoncides, which are an integral part of the tree’s immune system. Lucky for us humans, phytoncides also supports our natural ‘killer cells’. These are white blood cells that destroy cancerous or infected cells in the body.
In short, time spent amongst the trees has a positive effect on your immune system and your stress levels. It also presents the opportunity to simply slow down, focus on your surroundings, and practice being mindfully still.
How To Forest Bathe: A Guide
Being your forest bathing in an area that you feel comfortable wandering around alone in and that inspires you. Dense, untouched, old growth forests are ideal, but really any natural area with trees (ie, a local park) will have a similar effect.
Dress comfortably and appropriately for the weather and if possible, head out in moderate weather. Inclement weather may induce a little bit of stress, which is the opposite of the effect we are going for.
Minimize distractions by turning off any electronic devices and stowing them away in a pocket or backpack. Leave your to-do list behind and remember that you are not looking to get to any particular destination.
Invite yourself to be present in your environment. Engage your senses by listening to the sounds of the forest and taking in the sights of your surroundings. Enjoy nourishing, slow, deep breaths, smelling the fragrance of the forest air. Engage the sense of touch by feeling the soil, the trees, and the leaves.
Maintain a slow, meditative pace while stopping often to engage your senses and be still. Enjoy the connection you are experiencing and invite it to deepen as you ground yourself amongst nature.
If you enjoy Forest Bathing or would like to be supported in engaging your senses in nature consider joining us here at Northern Edge Algonquin later this season. Unplug in a guided experience at one of our upcoming retreats to deepen your connection with the forest. Far beyond the hum and bustle of the city, we offer space to experience both the sounds and the silence of nature around you.