Even as we adopt “social distancing,” it’s important to note that these efforts should not keep you confined inside your house. There’s always a great deal of benefit to be found by spending time in Nature. In fact, this is the perfect time to get away, get some fresh air, and give the “new” trend of “forest bathing” a try.
Of course, forest bathing isn’t really new…or as risqué as it may sound.
It’s actually a deeply spiritual mindfulness practice that is post-dated back to the 6th century in Japan. And most people do it with their clothes on. (Though, some go au natural, if you have access to a private forest.)
In 1982, the Japanese began calling the ancient practice shinrin-yoku, meaning, “bathing yourself in the atmosphere of the forest” as part of a national program to promote health, wellness, and happiness.
And it actually reminds me a lot of the Nature Cure and the Water Cure recommended by naturopathic physicians in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They believed that simply spending time in Nature and exposing yourself to the elements could help alleviate any number of chronic conditions.
Several U.S. presidents also used this natural approach to healing. In fact, Theodore Roosevelt overcame asthma and other disabilities by spending time in Nature out West. And Franklin Roosevelt regularly “took the waters” at Warm Springs, Georgia, one of the country’s most famous therapeutic spas, to ease his polio symptoms.
So, there’s nothing really new about this simple practice of spending time quietly enjoying Nature…except that scientists are finally starting to take note and study it.
“Forest bathing” found to reduce stress and even protect against cancer
Numerous studies published since 1982 have shown that forest bathing:
- Lowers stress (and hormone levels related to stress)
- Reduces blood pressure and pulse rate
- Alleviates depression, anxiety, fatigue, and confusion
- Increases energy
- Promotes restful sleep
All of these benefits are particularly relevant right now. But research also shows the effects of forest bathing go beyond stress relief, and actually help “switch on” your immune system.
In one particularly interesting study, middle-aged men spent three days and two nights hiking, reflecting, and enjoying the quiet in a secluded forest. Blood tests showed that the men experienced a “significant” increase in the number of cancer-fighting white blood cells, known as “Natural Killer” (NK) cells, during their expedition. (My friend and colleague Dr. Jerry Thornthwaite discovered these cells back in the 1970s.)
Of course, all of these findings make sense to me.
For one, plants emit organic, antimicrobial fluids called phytoncides that boost the human immune system. In fact, researchers with the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that the effects of phytoncides on the human immune system are very real…and can last for more than a month!
In addition, as I regularly report, exposing your skin to strong, direct sunlight naturally triggers its production of vitamin D—which protects you against just about every chronic disease on the planet…including cancer.
In fact, women who spend more time in the sun dramatically reduce their risk of developing advanced breast cancer. And other research suggests that exposing the skin of the breasts directly to sunshine (as in “topless” sunbathing, which women embrace in Europe, and in parts of Florida, and Latin America) is particularly protective.
You don’t need a “guide” to enjoy forest bathing
While some wellness gurus now make a living leading groups of people through forest- bathing exercises, there’s really not that much to it.
You can enjoy forest bathing on your own, without “formal” instruction. After all, it’s a lot like mindfulness meditation…except you do it in a forest. (Although, for your safety and enjoyment, I always recommend going with at least one other person anytime you are out in Nature).
So, simply find a quiet forest where you can relax, close your eyes, turn your palms forward and outward, and “feel” the forest all around you.
There’s no chanting or mantras involved. Instead, just immerse yourself in the natural surroundings. Listen to the sounds of the rustling leaves, feel the sunlight on your skin, and smell the earth.
This simple exercise should help naturally clear your mind, and you’ll find yourself more “present in the moment.”
And you don’t need to go to exotic, “far-away places with strange-sounding names,” like the 1948 song recorded by Bing Crosby and Margaret Whiting. The key is to just go deep enough into any forest that allows you to feel removed from other people and unnatural sights and sounds. (I personally had a wonderful “forest bathing” experience a few years ago in the Adirondacks in upstate New York!)
In the end, as I suggested in my 2004 book Many Paths to Healing (unfortunately not in print anymore), there are many different paths to healing. And sometimes the path can take you through the forest. In fact, Dante Alighieri starts his classic book The Inferno, with the line, “in the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood…”
So, perhaps you, too, can find yourself, in a deep wood.
For more detailed instruction on how to forest bath, check out the March 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter (“The simplest way to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and ward off cancer—naturally”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started!
“Effects of Forest Bathing on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Parameters in Middle-Aged Males.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2587381. doi.org/10.1155/2016/2587381.
“Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.” Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2007 Apr-Jun;20(2 Suppl 2):3-8. doi.org/10.1177/03946320070200S202