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Shinrin-yoku: “forest bathing”

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Julia is a Bucktails alumni, and writes this guest post about how we can all  enjoy shinrin-yoku in our lives.  Describing the restorative properties of the practice, she makes a strong argument for making the time to get back to nature!

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Have you ever taken a hike in a forest and found yourself feeling happier, calmer, and contented? In Japanese culture, the concept of “forest bathing,” or shinrin-yoku, is one way to deal with high blood pressure, stress, and depression. The Japanese characters, or Kanji, for shinrin-yoku even look like little trees: 森林浴. In Japan, excessively hard-working businessmen practise shinrin-yoku to relax by escaping the city for a weekend and hiking so as to bathe in the forest atmosphere and experience a human-nature relationship.
The medical results of shinrin-yoku are indisputable. In a Japanese experiment, a stroll through the woods, when compared with a walk in the city yielded a 12.4% decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. Many other harmful factors decreased as well, such as: sympathetic nerve activity by 7%, blood pressure by 1.4%, and heart rate by 5.8%. The research subjects in Japan also experienced a boost in mood and decrease in anxiety. People with high cortisol levels and blood pressure have a greater chance of developing heart disease and depression, so forest bathing could work well as preventive medicine. Research continues by scientists around the globe to discover the causes of these results on a molecular level, possibly linked to the inhalation of compounds released by trees into the air. Some researchers believe these results reveal evolutionary physiological adaptations to natural environments, where humans have existed for eons. We may be best suited to life in the forest and function best in our natural habitat.
In modern society, we are often distracted by our phones and busy lives. To gain the full benefits of shinrin-yoku, one must be observant in nature. But there might be hope for us yet. Nature seems to be a subject of a current cultural movement. Hiking and camping are “cool” and social media is flooded with beautiful nature photography. In the past in the United States nature has been commonly associated with romantics like Thoreau and Emerson, rather than seen as a medicine… until recently. Nature therapy has grown as a field. Richard Louv, who wrote Last Child in the Woods, coined the term nature deficit disorder, and now concerned parents ensure that their children experience nature and have a chance to take in the fresh forest air.
Outdoor education is extremely important. In addition to nature deficit disorder, children who don’t spend time in nature will have little respect for the environment and its value as they grow up. If young people experience how beautiful, awe-inspiring, and calming nature can be, they will be more likely to contribute to conservation movements in their future.
Next time you take a hike, think about how you feel afterwards. I know that I have felt the effects of shinrin-yoku myself. So let’s ensure that there are still accessible forests to “bathe” in fifty years from now, for the sake of our health and the environment.