Whenever I’m feeling “off” I make it a point to go out and get a heavy dose of nature in my system.
I do this when I’m feeling stressed, uncreative, have some type of block, or generally feel unmotivated to work. I do it when I’m having a problem with a friend or family member. I do it when I feel down on life and I don’t quite know why.
All of us have moments where life isn’t moving quite as we planned. In those moments, I go into nature.
I find that spending time in nature has wonderful healing benefits. It de-stresses me. Relaxes me. Helps me to tap into my inner child. Helps me to think through my problems in a calm and peaceful environment.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who practices this. The Japanese have been touting the benefits of nature for hundreds of years.
In Japan there is a concept known as “Forest Bathing”. This is the practice of “Taking a short, leisurely visit to the forest for health benefits” (Wikipedia) and is called “Shinrin-Yoku”.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t some wacky hippie concept of spending time in nature and getting health benefits a la crystal therapy and Aryuveda – this is actually a well documented scientific practice.
“The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.” (https://qz.com/804022/health-benefits-japanese-forest-bathing/)
How does it work? While walking through the forest you are breathing in antimicrobial volatile organic compounds called “phytoncides”, which are essential oils from the bark of trees. The trees use these oils to protect themselves from germs and insects. Two of these are known as α-Pinene and limonene (wikipedia).
Sciency jargon aside – you’re breathing in essential oils emitted by the trees in the forest. These oils have been proven to improve immune function and have regenerative properties to the body.
How long does it take to get these benefits? Experiments on forest bathing measured its physiological effects on 280 subjects in their early 20s. The team measured the subjects’ salivary cortisol (which increases with stress), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability during a day in the city and compared those to the same biometrics taken during a day with a 30-minute forest visit. “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” the study concluded. (Quartz)
While all of these studies were focused on forests in specific, I also believe that ANY type of nature has the same healing properties.
For example I’m a big fan of the beach. Sunshine is a great source of Vitamin D and has been well documented as an anti-depressant. Sand is a natural exfoliant. Seawater improves elasticity of the skin. And if you google “health benefits and the beach” you’ll find some tenuous studies about the benefits of the beach.
Personally, health benefits aside, it’s just fun!
Getting out into nature relaxes and refreshes me. It literally feels like an energetic shower, which is why the term “forest bathing” feels so appropriate.
The next time you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or generally down on life, go outside and spend some time in nature. You’ll thank me later.
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
Also published on Medium.