We are more than just physical beings reliant on food and water to survive. Inside each of us there is a life force that we call the soul. You can’t see, touch or test the soul, yet it is critical to our health and happiness. Nurturing your mental, spiritual and emotional health is just as important as exercise and nutrition are to maintaining strong bones.
Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to nurture the soul and strengthen your bones.
“EVERYBODY needs beauty, places to pray and play in, where NATURE MAY HEAL AND CHEER, and give strength to body and soul alike.”
~ John Muir, naturalist and conservationist
Nature has healing powers. Intuitively we know that being out in the woods, absorbing the sights and sounds of nature, makes us feel healthier. Now emerging research confirms that connecting with nature helps humans reduce stress, combat chronic pain and boosts the immune system. Scientists are studying the growing practice of Shinrin-yoku, or “Forest Bathing” and the benefits it has on health and healing.
This practice of “Forest Bathing” was developed in Japan in the 1980’s as part of its national health program and today numerous studies have shown it to have tangible health benefits. These gentle walks through the woods have been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits of lowering blood pressure and heart rate, psychological benefits of reducing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improved cognitive function and creativity. Most recently, researchers have found positive effects of forest bathing on the human immune function.
A forest bathing trip involves visiting a forest or natural green space for relaxation while breathing in organic compounds called phytoncides. Phytoncides are antimicrobial oils emitted by trees and plants into the atmosphere. These phytoncides defend the plants against bacteria, fungi and insects and can benefit our health as well. Studies have shown that breathing in phytoncides can significantly decrease the production of stress hormones and increase the production and activity of Natural Killer cells, immune cells that can kill off tumors and cells infected with viruses. These affects were found to last at least 7 days after a forest bathing trip.
How can a slow stroll through the woods, that doesn’t emphasize exercise, help to strengthening your bones? Spending time among trees and in nature can enhance the immune system, decrease systemic inflammation and reduce the production of stress hormones. All strongly associated with optimal bone metabolism and protection against bone loss.
How can you begin to experience the benefits of the forest? Find a way to connect with nature, be it a forest, park or any green space. Tune into the sights, sounds, smells, textures and taste the freshness of the air.
Below are further guidelines by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy to enriching your forest bathing experience.
Guide lines for Practicing Forest Bathing
- Work with the forest as a partner, rather than as a setting for an activity. When you skillfully open yourself to the forest, it will work with you in a positive way.
- Keep your focus on embodiment and sensory experience; don’t over-think it.
- Minimize efforts to achieve anything.
- Ideally, your walks will last between two and four hours. This allows enough time for your mind and body to slow down and become relaxed.
- You don’t need to go very far, often only a half mile or less. It’s about being here, not getting there.
- Your primary goal is not to get a workout. It’s more like playtime with a meditative feeling. If you find yourself working out, just pause for a moment of stillness, then proceed again slowly.
- While you can forest bathe in any natural environment, ideally your walks should take place in a wooded environment, with streams and meadows and minimal intrusion from human-made sounds such as traffic or construction.
- The trail should be accessible and easy to walk on.
- Go unplugged, without technological barriers between your senses and the forest.
- Don’t let concepts such as “mindfulness” or “walking meditation” trick you into making efforts to experience anything other than what the forest offers.
- Don’t let the experiences of others or outcomes such as the feelings of awe described in research studies trick you into trying to have those same experiences. Let each walk be its own experience; avoid trying to recreate prior positive experiences.
Don’t allow the hustle and bustle of life to interfere with your relationship with nature. Find time to bathe yourself in the beauty and awe of nature. Your spirit, soul, body and bones will thank you!
References used for the blog post:
1. Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Guidelines Retrieved from http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/
2. Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. PLoS ONE,7(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
3. Feng, S., Madsen, S. H., Viller, N. N., Neutzsky-Wulff, A. V., Geisler, C., Karlsson, L., & Söderström, K. (2015). Interleukin-15-activated natural killer cells kill autologous osteoclasts via LFA-1, DNAM-1 and TRAIL, and inhibit osteoclast-mediated bone erosionin vitro. Immunology,145(3), 367-379. doi:10.1111/imm.12449
4. Li, Q., Kobayashi, M., & Wakayama, Y. (2009). Effect of Phytoncide from Trees on Human Natural Killer Cell Function. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology,22(4), 951-959. doi:10.1177/039463200902200410
5. Li, Q. (2009). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine,15(1), 9-17. doi:10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3
6. Li, Q., Kobayashi, M., & Kumeda, S. (2016). Effects of Forest Bathing on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Parameters in Middle-Aged Males. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,2016, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2016/2587381
7. Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2009). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine,15(1), 18-26. doi:10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9