A self-proclaimed tree-hugger, I could go on and on about the healing that can come from a day in the great outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, surrounded by unspeakable beauty, and far removed from the chaos.
After a long (arduous, but rewarding) hike on the Inca Trail I learned just how intense of a connection you can make with the world around you, if you just stop and give yourself the time to take it all in.
It's a sentiment that resonates with traditional Japanese culture. There has even been research on the physical and mental human reaction to time spent in the woods, among the trees. "Shinrin-yoku," as it's called, is the Japanese art that we can all benefit from. Developed in the 1980s in Japan, this form of meditative healing has been, according to the LA Times, “endorsed by the Forest Agency of Japan as a means of improving quality of life.”
The practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, reminded me of a poem I'd once read that shared some sage advice, from a tree. Although it may be a bit unexpected to think one could benefit from a tree's advice, upon reading it, I started to realize that perhaps there was something to it, to be more like a tree. I remember writing it down in my journal, thinking it was so poignant.
Stand Tall and Proud Go out on a limb Be content with your natural beauty Drink plenty of water Remember your roots Enjoy the view
Aside from learning from nature and taking advice from the trees, there are health benefits to be found in the forest as well. Forest bathing can have rejuvenating effects, such as stress and anxiety relief, as well as mood enhancement. It has also been shown to have some immunity perks, too. According toAFAR: “Immunologists in Japan have found the practice can nearly double your production of some sickness-fighting cells.”
Did you know that plants actually emit good-for-you chemicals? Breathing in these airborne chemicals, called phytoncides, might be the key to producing these “sickness fighting cells.” These cells are a type of white blood cell, and are deemed "natural killer" cells (aka NK). According to Oprah.com, researcher and studier of shinrin-yoku, Qing Li, MD, PhD, said: “Phytoncide exposure reduces stress hormones, indirectly increasing the immune system's ability to kill tumor cells.”
So, my fellow nature-loving, tree-huggers, I know you're all wondering where you might be able to try forest bathing for yourself, and the answer is... Any forest, any nature trail—anywhere.
A quick, little how-to: The main objective here is to invigorate your senses, and be completely present and aware of your surroundings. This is not intended to be strenuous, or the ultimate cardio workout. Take it all in: Breathe deeply, taking in, and smelling, the air around you. Observe the color of the leaves and the sounds of twigs crunching beneath your feet.
And while you don't actually have to hug the trees to reap the benefits of forest bathing, no one will blame you (or judge you) if you want to reach out and give one a big ol' squeeze.
If you're looking for a guided session though, check these out: