Can simply being in nature really improve your health? Studies (and Japanese traditions) say yes. Of course escaping into nature for a few hours is not going to magically cure our chronic illnesses or erase disability, but the benefits of regularly “bathing” yourself in nature are clear.
Forest Bathing, known as Shinrin-yoku in Japan, was first recognized in the 1980s. It is a relatively new concept here in the United States. The idea is to enter a natural environment and become mindful of your surroundings. It is not hiking, or any other strenuous activity, rather, just taking in nature through your senses:
- The sights (the colors, the textures, the scale)
- The sounds (the rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds, the babbling brooks),
- The smells (the wildflowers, the bark, the leaves) and,
- The feel (the moss between your toes, the softness of a flower petal…)
Aside from the mental and emotional rejuvenation many feel while escaping into nature, studies have also shown a link to an increase in helpful cells within our immune system, called NK or Natural Killer cells. These cells combat tumors and viruses. Sounds like the sort of cell we would want a lot more of, wouldn’t you say?
The same studies also showed being in nature for an extended period leads to a decrease in depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion.
According to a 2018 report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors. The EPA goes on to say that the concentration of indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than the concentration of pollutants outside.
All the more reason to get outdoors and breathe in that fresh air!
Of course, there are many factors keeping us indoors, disability, and chronic illness, being one of them. We get it. Sometimes getting out just is not in the cards! When it is possible, make a real effort to leave your home and city behind for a few hours and find some trees.
It does not have to be a true forest. A quiet local park will do just fine. Find a spot and use all of your senses to explore the environment. Wander slowly and aimlessly; you do not need a destination! Find a spot under a tree or the edge of a brook and just be.
Avoid the temptation to look at your phone. The idea is to disconnect from our everyday lives and truly connect with our natural world.
Are you willing to try it?
We would love to hear about your Forest Bathing experience. Drop a comment below!