Friday Freedonist: Forest Bathing? It’s Free, It’s Luscious, It’s Healthy — And No Tub to Scrub

| November 8, 2013 | 1 Comment

Today, I bathed with my clothes on.  And it was amazing.

Okay, I know, that’s weird even for ME.  But for today’s Friday Freedonist, I was on a quest to groove on a little shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “taking in the forest atmosphere” or forest bathing.

On this fantastic sunny autumn morning with tall trees all around, autumn leaves swirling around my feet, I met my friend Stacy (who Lives on Vacation Every Day) and with our two dogs we ventured off onto the Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail for a little “dip.”

About this bathing thing:  The Japanese use the term “forest bathing” to describe the experience of purposeful stress reduction through immersing yourself in natural surroundings.  Your life feels like a vise around your head?  Your job makes you insane?  Nothing going right today?  Their advice: Go find yourself a place where there are trees.  My advice: Flip off whoever’s messing with you THEN go find yourself a place where there are trees. (Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, but I play one on the Web)

Is this another “nature makes you feel calm” thing?  Well, yes and no.  It’s not just because it’s nature and some people find nature a nice self-care gesture, a place to step away and get perspective on life.  Note that I say some.  I know some lifelong urban dwellers who would rather stab themselves in the eye with a grapefruit spoon rather than go where there’s no wireless and by the way, ewww, there’s dirt there (see photo – see all that dirty dirt?)

But in this case, it’s not just the treehuggers that enjoy it. We all seem to, on a chemical level, benefit from being in the woods.  There is a growing, credible body of scientific evidence emerging from Japan and South Korea that seems to show that even our immune systems are boosted by being out there.  For example, researchers have isolated organic compounds called phytoncides, natural preservatives and fungicides emitted by many plants, with exposure to them stimulating & increasing the “NK” (natural killer) cells in our immune system fundamental to fighting cancer.

More research is needed in that realm to really call it proof, but the truly proven benefits are impressive enough.  Multiple studies show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol (the “stress hormone”), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.* Even looking at forests seems to trigger something healing in us. In a study in the journal Science in 1984, researcher Richard S. Ulrich showed that surgery patients whose room gave them a view of nature suffered fewer complications, used less pain medication, and were discharged sooner than those with a brick-wall view.

Of course, we weren’t thinking about our sympathetic nervous system while walking at Beaver Brook.  Not a trace of fight-or-flight to be found, unless you count the guy with the aggro dogs who walked past us on the way out (I guess he didn’t read the study).

We’re two professional women with way too much on our respective plates, but as we walked along, the topics turned from the daily peeves to other, quieter topics.  Things like friends who were recovering from major surgery in amazing ways, why certain trees are called conifers, even a shout-out to a trio of three tree-climbing foresters who were creating a ropes course “just for us” (so they offered).

The dogs trotted along contentedly, the breezes blew, the far mountains stood watch with their cloak of fresh snow.  We waded through the cinnamon-vanilla-resin scent of the ponderosa pine forest.  And all was right with the world, for an hour at least, and probably a lot longer than that.

Almost everyone has a little patch of woods somewhere nearby, even if it’s just a clump of maples at the nearest city park.  According to the studies, the location need not matter, just that there are more trees than people crowding around you.

So have a nice bath in the woods.    You won’t regret it.  If anyone wants to make you feel guilty about it, just tell them you’re practicing shinrin-yoku, and walk on.

Why: Relaxation, regrouping, health
Time:  1.5 hours including driving to the trailhead
Cost:  $0.75 in gas

*http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835

 

 

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Category: Entertainment, Friday Freedonist, Fun, Leisure, Mental Health, Sustainable

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  1. You are just the BEST! That’s all. Eloquent in your words, genuine in you heart and spirit! Thanks for spreading the great juju!

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