Forest Bathing: Why a good walk may just be the answer to all that ails you.
Why a good walk may just be the answer to all that ails you.
My husband was flying last month and chuckled when he read this in the “American Way” . He understands how I coach my clients on getting outside for earthing, walking, breathing, sunlight, meditation, etc.
This article speaks more towards the movement of forest bathing with professional guides and the four specific locations where this is available. One of these sites is close to my home province in Canada which I will make a point to travel there this year and write about my experience later in 2017. I am grateful for Elaine’s information and wanted to share a few other points in hopes that you may be encouraged to turn to nature. The research is beginning to show how these beautifully designed bodies need to connect with nature and how a daily bathing process can bring the realization of our connection to this beautiful planet is necessary to reclaim our ability to thrive.
“The beautiful thing about forest bathing is we’re getting all the benefits of cancer-fighting properties, and also the practice of mindfulness.”
As a child I spent most of my childhood frolicking through the fields of grass, long walks into the forest, fishing at the brook and rock climbing, nature is my playground. This is not new to me and I know when my body is needing to be in nature, it helps me to destress and increases my happiness, it works beautifully!
This article written by Elaine Glusac speaks to the journey she went on with her guide “Hope Parks” to explore the tangle of trails at Blackberry Farm resort, which abuts Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trek is referred to as “forest bathing” meaning a slow, watchful walk whose benefits are said to range from clarity of mind to lowered blood pressure. “It’s an active form of meditation,” says Parks, a way to “focus on our senses and how nature awakens them.”
Forest bathing derives from the Japanese practice shinrin-yoku, translated as “taking in the forest atmosphere.” This is not as straightforward as it sounds. More and more, forest bathing relies on scientific research for legitimacy, to elevate it above a mere walk in the woods.
Ben Page, founder of the forest bathing organization Shinrin Yoku in Los Angeles, is one of the practice’s more fervent believers, and not only because of its perceived health benefits,. “When people come to realize that the forest can improve their immunological functions and their psychological well being” he says, “that appreciation will lead to a better relationship between humans and the natural world, which is something we need as we move into the 21st century and beyond.”
The hope among proponents of forest bathing is that doctors might one day order up a stroll among trees, in the way they write a prescription for other forms of treatment–within reason.
I’d never say “ You don’t need those blood pressure meds, you need a walk in the woods every day.’ That’s ridiculous,” says Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, an ob-gyn who oversees integrative medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “But on the other hand, a whole approach that encompasses nutrition, exercise, stress relief, looking at the mind-body connection and incorporating nature is, I think, realistic. The beautiful thing about forest bathing is it kills a few different birds with one stone. We’re getting all the benefits of phytoncides and cancer-fighting properties, and the benefits of mood an increased cognition, and then also the practice of mindfulness.
Most people don’t understand what mindfulness is. Once you begin this practice you will see the benefits but you really need to make a commitment, I tell my clients to stay with anything you do for at least a full cycle, and what is a full cycle? Commit for 28 days, realizing this is a beginning step into a lifestyle change that cost you nothing but commitment and trusting the process.
To understand forest bathing you must first understand mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment, usually during meditation but also via other means, such as self-discipline (for example, practitioners might point out that a pint of Ben & Jerry’s after a stressful day is mindless, rather than mindful).
A 2015 review by researchers from Harvard University, among others, surveyed 187 scientific studies and confirmed that mindfulness-based practices significantly reduced depression stress, and anxiety and improved quality of life. STRESS plays a very big role in chronic illness but you have more ability to manage this than what you may be realizing. See my other article on stress
“Forest bathing is really mindfulness meets nature. It’s not just a walk to get the miles in for exercise. It’s a walk to see with new eyes and hear with new ears”.
When you are out walking just begin by noticing the breath, how your breathing slows down, the things around you, maybe the bird that is following you and singing, the bark on the tree, the rock under your foot, the color of the leaves, the pattern of light on the trail, smell of a forest, have you noticed the ground beneath your foot. This outdoor experience is what helps you to create space within to hear, connect and have more compassion in your life.
“Some meditation is about not paying attention to anything around you, but this is about paying attention to the environment.”
I would also suggest when you are out forest bathing to make a meditation day to pay attention to your body, does it need more rest, are you feeding it nutritious foods, are you breathing deeply, are you supplying the body with enough water. Your body knows exactly what you need and if we just clear out the noise we can hear and begin to understand what it is that we really want. The person with the problem has the solution and you can trust your body.
The article goes on to mention that not any forest will do. Dense forests can be too gloomy, and the best areas have very specific features. They should be easy to reach but also peaceful, so walkers can hear the chirp of the crickets and the crunch of leaves underfoot. They should have an easy grade, a shallow stream, and adjacent meadow and generally be safe which rules out mountain climbs and cliff walks.
Personally, I agree with less traffic areas so you don’t get distracted and you can focus, this may mean taking some planning on your part depending on where you live. Take a look around your area and see if you can locate a park that might serve your need. For the practice to become a daily practice convenience will be most important. Maybe it’s a stream near your work where you can stick your bare feet in or a rock that you could sit on, eat your lunch and breathe. Finding a little oasis so you can recalibrate during the day will improve your health, attitude and maybe bring you a little solitude. The weekends could be when you travel a little further to find the forest, bike trails, hiking or some way to connect to this amazing environment we have been given to enjoy.
Some of these simple practices could decrease the absenteeism in the workplace if we were able to get people out at lunch and moving their lower lumbar area from sitting all day, refocusing their eyes from the white light, breathing in fresh oxygen, this gentle exercise leads to relaxation and better thinking abilities. Once the body can relax then it can detox and begin to lose weight without even focusing on weight lose, this is true sustainable health care.
There’s also a social aspect they speak to about forest bathing that distinguishes it from other forms of meditation.
“Social connectedness with people extends to a social connection with the forest, feeling a greater degree of relatedness to plants, animals, birds, streams and stones” .
Ultimately, the most meaningful communion will be with the forests themselves, and this may ultimately prove to be the most profound benefit of the forest bathing movement.
As Jacques Cousteau once put it: “People protect what they love.” Love requires intimacy, yet today, around 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas and, according to the National Recreation and Park Association, sadly just 12 percent of adults spend time outdoors daily.
My desire is to encourage others to recognize that we are connected to this planet and our bodies require we step outside on a daily basis and feel the ground under our feet and the wind on our face. The earth births forth daily everything we need, the food, the water, the oxygen, the light, the energy and so much more. We seem to have forgotten the free and simple practices that can possibly bring our bodies back into homeostasis.
Here in my town of Mansfield we have “Elmers Nature Park” which is about a mile from my residence. I just strolled through it yesterday and was full of gratitude that the owner of this property wanted it kept in it’s “natural state” for all to benefit from what it offers, health, exercise, appreciation of nature and all the beauty around us and with us.
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