In Japanese, Shinrin-yoku translates to “forest bathing”. Forest bathing utilizes tools like mindfulness to engage our senses as we spend time in nature. In the 1980s, Japanese marketers began publicizing the benefits of visiting nature as a tool to engage people with public forests. Since then, scientific evidence has shown the health and wellness impacts of spending time in nature. This has opened up a stream of questions for scientists, most notably, why do most people feel better when in nature?
In the 21st century, our bodies are exposed to a number of pollutants, chemicals, stimulants, and experiences that make us more susceptible illness. These stressors aggravate our bodies natural physiology, sending us into a state of fight or flight mode. Activation of fight or flight mode triggers our sympathetic nervous system – which is the body’s alarm system – leading to an increase in adrenaline. Shinrin-yoku, a form of nature therapy, can help return our bodies to relaxation via the engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system. Engaging this system increases our immune cells, reduces blood pressure, and increases feelings of wellbeing. (Source: Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki).
For example, patients recovering from surgery who were placed near windows that allowed them to look into nature recovered faster and required less painkillers (Source: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/224/4647/420). The longer amount of time and greater frequency of time we spend in nature only amplifies its healing powers.
As research into nature therapy progresses, it only confirms the suspicions of the greatest poets, artists, and philosophers of time – that nature is a tool for healing.
To practice Shinrin-yoku all you need is a natural or semi-natural area and a path. If you’re looking for something more rugged, lots of great hiking trails can be found in Wyandotte County Lake Park, where the Mr. & Mrs. F.L. Schlagle library is located. While walking, turn off your electronics. Practice being aware of your senses. Ask yourself, what do you notice in your surroundings? Smell the aromas of wood, notice the details of bark or leaves, listen to the sounds of branches creaking or birds chirping. Where is your state of mind when walking? Be sure to do a mental scan of your body as you walk through the forest. Start at the ankles and move up your body to the crown of your head. Do you become more or less engaged in the present as you walk through the forest?
If you would like to engage in Shinrin-yoku with a certified professional nature therapists, check out natureandforesttherapy.earth for more information.
Additionally, many books about Shinrin-yoku and the benefits of nature wellness are available in the Kansas City, Kansas public library system:
- Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki
- The Nature Fix: Why Nature makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
- Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Ema M. Selhub & Alan C. Logan