a little forest bathing will make you happier and healthier
posted: April 21, 2014
Feeling crappy? Head straight for the woods
When this story on ‘forest bathing’ was pitched at a planning meeting a few weeks ago in our Vancouver store support centre, the looks around the table could be perfectly summed up in a word: “Huh?”
No no, I explained, the idea isn’t to go into a forest and bathe—at least, not in the literal sense that my colleagues were all thinking. This was about going to a forest to absorb its aura as you would soak in Vitamin D from the sun. Yet this was even bigger. This was about the marriage of modern science and mother nature and the resulting proof that in our hyper-distracted, stressed out, i-Everything worlds we can quite possibly save ourselves from depression, despair and even disease simply by hanging out amongst some trees.
This really shouldn’t be a revelation. Our connection to nature is right there in our DNA. In the book Your Brain On Nature, authors Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan explain that biophilia, originally defined in early 1900s’ medical dictionaries as the instinct for self-preservation or the instinctual drive to stay alive, was in the 1980s redefined by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson as the “innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms…having the potential to influence the matters that mental health care providers concern themselves with: cognitions and behaviours.”
Translation: nature has a positive effect on us.
The Japanese have known this for years. There, shinrin-yoku (as they call forest bathing) is standard preventative medicine, according to an article in Outside magazine. The term, the article goes on to say, was coined by the government in 1982, but inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, and means to let nature enter your body through all five senses.
So seriously does Japan take its practice of shinrin-yoku that it has 48 official Forest Therapy trails established in the forests that cover 67 per cent of its landmass, and plans to reach 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Its government continues to fund forest-bathing research with a focus on uncovering more postitive neurological affects of spending time in nature (in addition to the proven cognitive ones).
We know, start talking neuroscience and the whole concept of forest bathing gets a bit, well, cerebral. Boiled down, however, the message isn’t that far from where Henry David Thoreau—romantic sop that he was—left us at Walden Pond: we can never have enough of nature.
And in a world where the scales have recently tipped so that more of us live in urban areas than outside of them, and where happiness continues to be elusive and North Americans report higher levels of stress and pressure every year, perhaps it’s worth taking a walk in the woods?
For more cool insights about forest bathing—because we could barely scratch the surface of this fascinating topic here—we recommend checking out Outside and The Atlantic for their takes on the subject and picking up the book Your Brain On Nature.