Forest Bathing for Optimal Health
Japanese researchers have discovered that forest bathing, also known as silvotherapy, develops the five senses, all stimulated by contact with nature. Every study conducted on silvotherapy so far has demonstrated reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness amongst the participants. It has also been proven that certain species of trees have a positive influence on a person. Japanese cedars have shown to lower systolic blood pressure in participants while the cedars of the Kumano Kodo region have been recorded as noticeably slowing down Alzheimer’s disease.
It was in the early 1980s that the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term “Shinrin-Yoku” (literally “Take the atmosphere of the Forest”), to encourage citizens to take walks in the forests. In the 1990s, the matter was taken very seriously and Japanese researchers carried out advanced studies on the physiological effects of silvotherapy.
Many tests were carried out on volunteers and the results are exciting: After only 40 minutes of walking, the participants saw their stress level, heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Over the years and studies, the list of benefits of ‘forest bathing’ has grown. Among the benefits observed, we will note the strengthening of the immune system, thanks to the inspiration of phytoncides (molecules secreted by trees to defend themselves against bacteria), lower concentrations of cortisol, a decrease in the level of glucose in the blood of diabetics and also a decrease in aggression and very positive effects on depression.
If you think it all sounds too good to be true, why not give it a go yourself?
If you have a forest or wooded area nearby, great. If not you can also practise forest bathing in a park, botanical gardens, your garden, the bushveld or a nature reserve. Just follow this short guide
- Turn off your devices to give yourself the best chance of relaxing, being mindful and enjoying a sensory forest-based experience.
- Slow down. Move through the forest slowly so you can see and feel more.
- Take long breaths deep into the abdomen. Extending the exhalation of air to twice the length of the inhalation sends a message to the body that it can relax.
- Stop, stand or sit, smell what’s around you. What can you smell?
- Take in your surroundings using all of your senses. How does the forest environment make you feel? Be observant, look at nature’s small details.
- Sit quietly, using mindful observation; try to avoid thinking about your to-do list or issues related to daily life. You might be surprised by the number of wild forest inhabitants you see using this process.
- Keep your eyes open. The colours of nature are soothing and studies have shown that people relax best while seeing greens and blues.
- Stay as long as you can, start with a comfortable time limit and build up to the recommended two hours for a complete forest bathing experience.