Updated: Jul 12, 2021
According to a 2018 YouGov report on the “Indoor Generation”, the average American spends 90% of their time indoors.
The report shows that we breathe almost 4,000 gallons of air on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. In addition to that, being indoors most of the time means we’re not getting enough natural daylight. Because it governs our sleep cycles, the lack of natural daylight disrupts our biological rhythms.
Very few people are aware of the detrimental effects of staying indoors most of the time despite the plethora of research studies that have proven how harmful this is to our health and well-being. This separation from nature causes us to feel even more stressed and overwhelmed.
In his book, “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness,” Qing Li, a Japanese medical doctor, and researcher, explains how the practice of forest bathing known as Shinrin-yoku can reduce stress, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and aid sleep.
What Is Forest Bathing?
This practice gained popularity in Japan in the 1980s. Forest bathing is a psychological and physiological exercise that entails basking in the forest atmosphere.
The goal behind resorting to nature is to reduce the stress that burnout caused but also to inspire citizens to reconnect with their country’s forests, and in turn, help preserve them.
The Healing Power of Nature
“Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier” ― Qing Li
Qing Li has spent years researching the effects regular forest bathing can have on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. He realized that spending time in a forest greatly reduces our levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
Not only that, but forest bathing also enhances the immune system, improves cardiovascular and metabolic function, and promotes our overall well-being. While forest bathing can boost our health and happiness, any kind of natural setting will have similar benefits.
Li explains that these benefits stem from two main factors.
First, forests have a much higher concentration of oxygen than urban areas. Second, plants have a defense system comprised of plant chemicals known as phytoncides. These represent the natural oils that protect plants from insects, bacteria, and fungi. When we’re exposed to phytoncides, and we breathe them in, our bodies respond to these chemicals by stimulating the activity of a specific category of white blood cells that kill the tumors and viruses present in our cells.
Moreover, phytoncides also lower the concentration of stress hormone cortisol and help regulate blood pressure as well as heart rate.
How to Do Forest Bathing
“How to do shinrin-yoku in the park: Leave behind your phone, camera, music and any other distractions. Leave behind your expectations. Slow down; forget about the time. Come into the present moment. Find a spot to sit – on the grass, beside a tree or on a park bench. Notice what you can hear and see. Notice what you feel. Stay for two hours if possible (though you will begin to notice the effects after twenty minutes)” ― Qing Li
Forest bathing can be a great activity for both adults and children to partake in. Here’s how you can lower your stress and learn the best way to engage with nature!
● Find a secluded piece of nature
The first step is to look for the right place where you will finally be able to engage all your senses and immerse yourself in nature. This should ideally be away from the distractions of the city or suburbs. If the spot you pick has a lot of trees, then that’s a bonus!
● Set a time frame for your meditative forest bath
While Li recommends at least one or two hours in the forest, any time you can afford in nature can still benefit your health and well-being greatly. You can start with 20 minutes and opt for longer when you have more time.
● Experience the forest with all your senses (remember to go slow)
This is not a form of physical exercise. The point is to go at a slow pace and take in all the small details that you would usually be oblivious to. Allow yourself to mindfully experience what’s around you. You can sit down to feel the earth, explore the distinct olfactory qualities of the forest, and closely listen to the soothing sounds of nature.
Not everyone has the luxury of a nearby forest, but that does not mean you can’t forest bathe!
You can bring nature to your home by acquiring some house plants, using a diffuser and essential oils, creating a fresh herb garden, or incorporating natural materials and elements into your decor. Forest bathing is accessible to everyone, and whether you do it on your deck, terrace, balcony, or in an actual forest, you will soon notice how replenished you feel from soaking in all that nature has to offer.
I know, for sure, that I am going to make a concerted effort to do this every day in my own backyard with my family.