Can’t Touch? Try Forest Bathing

Can’t Touch? Try Forest Bathing

It is no surprise that appropriately touching another human being invokes all kinds of beneficial health advantages. An archived study in Biological Psychology stated that,

“…frequent hugs between spouses/partners are associated with lower BP [blood pressure] and higher OT [oxytocin] levels in premenopausal women; OT-mediated reduction in central adrenergic [neurotransmitter] activity and peripheral effects of OT on the heart and vasculature…”

It is an impressive transformation by simply holding someone’s hand or enjoying a hug. However, as you navigate through the undetermined effects of COVID-19 touching other humans may be on hold for a little while. Fortunately, there are other ways you can gain the many health benefits of touch with the next best thing, Mother Nature. As odd as it may sound, forest bathing is an actual therapy that can be easily utilized to enhance your life, even during a global pandemic. 

Unexpected Medicine

It was Albert Einstein who said, 

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” 

More people are beginning to realize the deep connection humans have to nature. Some are foregoing animal products as a health and environmental choice as well as a statement that factory farming will no longer be supported. Others may lessen their carbon footprint as best they can to help the longevity of the planet. Either way, embracing all that nature offers rather than destroying and pillaging it is the simple answer to reversing or at least slowing humans’ inevitable, rapidly approaching demise. 

In addition to taking a stand to reduce the assault on nature, literally embracing it may be an unexpected medicine in and of itself. 

Not New

Forest bathing, sometimes referred to as forest therapy or ecotherapy consists of ‘bathing’ in the atmosphere of nature, namely a forest or similar setting. It comes from the Japanese tradition known as Shinrin-Yoku which began in the 1980’s and means forest bathing. 

The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) describes the practice,

“Forest Therapy is a research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in forests and other natural environments. Studies have demonstrated a wide array of health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems, and for stabilizing and improving mood and cognition. Shinrin-Yoku walks are not undertaken with the primary goal of physical exercise. We prefer to avoid the term “hiking” because of its implications of physical exertion. As taught by the Association, Shinrin-Yoku walks are typically a mile or less and range in duration from two to four hours.” 

The intent of forest bathing is not so much what someone can get out of it but rather what can someone give to it. By sitting quietly within nature (away from distractions), the transcendence that has been reported brings awe as well as peripheral physical and mental benefits.

Tree Hugger Studies

Limited research into forest bathing has yielded some interesting results. ANFT cites several studies that reported various findings. Some of these include:

“2007 study, men taking two hour walks in the woods over a two day period exhibited a 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells—the body’s disease fighting agents.”

“2008 study of 13 female nurses on a three-day trip, in which the trip produced anti-cancer proteins and benefits lasting more than 7 days after the trip”

“The average concentration of salivary cortisol, a stress hormone, in people who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes was 13.4 percent lower than that of people in urban settings.” 

A study of terpenes (fragrances from flowers, trees, and other plant-life) published in ‘Toxicological Research’ (4/17) concluded,  

“To date, many terpenes from essential oils as well as forest bathing have been reported to exhibit strong biological activities. This review categorized the terpenes that have presented important results in cell and animal systems according to their anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic, or neuroprotective activities”

The Experience

Personal accounts of forest bathing give a good sense of how it can become a deeply moving experience. WebMD posted firsthand comments from those immersed in this growing practice held at the 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.

“Shay Sayani, 39, a Northridge, CA, holistic educator, says this is her third forest bathing experience. Now, she says, “this is part of my self-care practice.””

“For Leon Adams, 68, a Glendale, CA, classical pianist, it was a first. “A friend recommended it,” he says. “It took me a while to relax,” he admits, but then he saw the rewards. “You leave the ‘monkey mind’ behind. You get into spaces in the mind that you can’t get into when you are on the cellphone or in traffic.””

“On the walk back to the arboretum entrance, Kuang says she has introduced her 22-year-old son Chris to forest therapy. “He has autism and limited verbal expressions,” she says. Forest walks ease his anxiety and improve his mood quickly.”

Try forest bathing for a full spectrum experience with nature that goes beyond a simple walk or hike in the woods. See if you can dive deep by standing silent to give and receive amongst the surrounding trees, grasses, and flora. It is the ultimate natural connection you may have been waiting for that offers peace, tranquility, stress-reducing results.