Forest bathing is good for your health

«Shinrin-Yoku»

Do you know how it feels when you are in the forest and suddenly everything is light and just feels good? Where does this good feeling in the forest come from?
Healthy common sense tells us that “natural things are good for us”. This is justified, because science has proved that spending time in the forest is demonstrably beneficial for our health and wellbeing. The Japanese have a beautiful term for it: Shinrin-Yoku – or forest bathing in English.

What does Shinrin-Yoku mean?

Shinrin-Yoku (森林浴) originates in Japan and means immersing yourself in the forest, or consciously being in the forest. Shinrin-Yoku was first recommended to the Japanese population in the sense of health promotion in 1982 by the Forestry Agency, and since then, forest bathing has proved its worth so well that it has become a recognised method of managing stress and relaxation in Japan. This is not surprising, because forest bathing means being aware of all your internal feelings and external sensory impressions. When doing so, you focus on the following four of your five senses:

  • Hearing, auditory perception with the ears
  • Sight, visual perception with the eyes
  • Touch, tactile perception with the skin
  • Smell, olfactory perception with the nose

Our senses and sensory perceptions take centre stage when forest bathing.

Shinrin-Yoku means turning your attention entirely to what you can hear, see, feel, and smell. You are present in the here and now and are aware of what is. You also go on a journey of the senses and explore nature – the forest.

Can you smell the forest fragrance? Can you feel the fir cones under your feet? Can you hear the rustling of foliage as you go past? Are the birds singing? Are the leaves soughing in the wind? Maybe it is raining – can you feel the raindrops on your skin? What does the bark of a tree feel like? You can be aware all these things, and more, when forest bathing. Do all this, if possible, with a friendly attitude – one of the seven attitudes of mindfulness – but without evaluating it . That is why Shinrin-Yoku is also sometimes called forest meditation or forest mindfulness

“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present.”
(Thich Nhat Hanh)


The forest, an oasis of wellbeing – why is the forest so good for us?

If you live in Zug Canton, you can count yourself lucky. Almost a third of the canton is covered by forest, which has been seen as a “health maker” or “health improver” for several years now. “Why is the forest so good for us?” – science has now been studying this question for some time. Investigations on the health effects of the forest show that visiting the forest can have a broad spectrum of benefits for us. Compared to stays in metropolitan/urban areas, forest visits seem to reduce stress, act as an antidepressant, and boost the immune and cardio-vascular systems, as well as improving cognitive functions, according to current research.

How the forest benefits our bodies

Have you ever consciously paid attention to your heartbeat on a walk in the forest? No? Then next time you absolutely should.
Various studies have shown that blood pressure and pulse (heartbeat) drop when you’re spending time in the forest; the heart rate variability (a relaxation/regeneration indicator) goes up and the concentration of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol decreases.
The first scientific findings on the effect of visiting forests on the human immune system are particularly interesting. Especially in our current situation with the coronavirus, when we all need a strong immune system, spending time in the forest could be worth your while. In particular, the natural killer cells play a significant role by identifying and eliminating the cells that have been attacked by the virus. Visits to the forest seem to demonstrably benefit the activity of these natural killer cells. Moreover, the initial studies even show that this effect lasts for several days. Your body will therefore benefit, not just on the day when you visit the forest, but for several days afterwards too.

The benefits of the forest on our minds

The forest doesn’t just give your body a positive boost, your mind gets one too. Studies show that positive emotions such as ease, wellbeing, vitality and exhilaration increase when you visit a forest, while negative feelings decrease. Also, more recent studies indicate that forests could possibly be used as a space for therapy programmes for depressive disorders. In addition to the psychological and physiological effects, the forest – nature – seems to be a good space for reflection and solving problems. According to some scientists, we find it easier to reflect on personal problems in natural green spaces, which can also have a positive effect on the health. Additionally, experiencing nature is important for the healthy development of children, and formative for their future lifestyle.

If these arguments aren’t enough to make you go to a forest, we have something else for you. If you are the sort of person who finds a walk in the forest boring, and would rather take an approach more active than forest bathing, we recommend you visit the Forest Obstacle Course in Oberwil, where sport, culture and nature come together. You can both physically challenge yourself and find creative inspiration at the total of 11 posts. As you do, you move through the forest above Oberwil and nature will work its magic on your body.
If you are more interested in nature and the diversity of life in our forests, we recommend you take a trip to Städtlerwald wood in Cham, or the Steihuserwald, or the Mänzingerholz, or to St. Jost in Oberägeri. In these Zug forests, you will find the Forest Biodiversity Obstacle Course that was launched as part of the Forest Biodiversity campaign, to improve the biodiversity of Swiss forest, by the Bundesamt für Umwelt (BAFU). While you are immersing yourself in the forest, you will find various posts containing a great deal of information about the forest and its inhabitants. The obstacle course is suitable for a trip with the whole family.

In the Pocket Guide von Mindfulmind, you will find 10 things that you should know before trying forest bathing.

We wish you lots of joy, relaxation and rest in the forest.
 

References:

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