Yesterday I listened to a podcast that reaffirmed that often the answers to the complexities of modern health problems are found in the simplicity of nature. The subject was Nature-Deficit Disorder, which is not an official medical diagnosis, but a buzzword growing in popularity. It describes one of the factors in the explosion of anxiety, depression, brain fog, and a lowering of immune function… a disconnection from nature.
When many of us were children, we spent far more time outside. We climbed trees, built forts, watched ants, searched for 4-Leaf Clovers, made mud pies, and waded in creeks. Of course, we had no computers or other electronic devices to fixate our attention and our televisions only got a handful of channels. Don’t get me wrong, there are MANY advantages to our modern technology! But it is designed to be addictive and keep us engaged with IT rather than the larger “real” life around us.
In Japan, where so much of its population lives in extremely crowded cities, an antidote to this Nature Deficit was born. It’s called shinrin-yoku, which literally means forest bath. (How to take a forest bath is described below.) In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. After many years of study, here are the proven benefits of the forest bath:
– Relief from the effects of chronic stress, like anxiety and depression.
– Better sleep, particularly when people did their forest bathing in the afternoon or early evening.
– A stronger immune system, which actually comes from chemicals the trees produce to protect themselves from insects and disease.
– Sharper mental acuity (translation- no brain fog).
– Improved vigor and less fatigue.
Could you use a dose of this? I certainly could! And I will be heading straight for the park after I get out from in front of this computer! Forest bathing is not really hiking, although you can hike into and out of an area of trees. The technique is purposeful and specific. Here’s how you do it, according to Dr Qing Li, who has studied the practice for decades:
Find a green space. This could be a park or neighborhood area, your back yard, or an actual forest- anywhere with trees will do, and Dr Li says to pay attention to where your body feels like going.
“Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.” I’ve done this and it really does require being intentional to get “out of one’s head” and into the present moment.
Take your time. No power walking here; it’s more like a stroll. Breathe deeply and spend at least 20 minutes to get the benefits.
Try different activities while you’re there. Perhaps a bit of yoga or bird watching. Study the plants and perhaps keep a little journal.
Enjoy the silence, if you are fortunate enough to find a spot away from human noise. This silence is profoundly relaxing and restorative to your nervous system. The sounds that can occur in nature tend to be soothing, like a flowing creek or a chirping bird.
If you’re too busy to spend 20 minutes like this?…… well, you need it more than anyone! Reminds me of a meme I saw that said “Hurry up, inner peace. I haven’t got all day!” 😉
Take some pictures and post them on our Hit Your Stride Facebook group, which is for people who are working to make healthy lifestyle changes. If needing to de-stress is a change you’d like to make, you now have a great tool to accomplish it! All pictures in this blog are from a few of my forest bathing excursions.
This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: We are not medical doctors and nothing in this newsletter should be taken as medical advice. Discuss all medical issues with your own MD.