March 30, 2015

Healing in Nature with Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

My mom, recently retired, has discovered HGTV. I can't blame her for her recent obsession given that there is literally nothing on the hundreds of channels on cable. Also, some of the shows are pretty awesome, and I was hooked on them during my initial illness recovery. Between HGTV and Food Network, I always had something interesting to watch.

Look closely. There are buds on this tree!
While HGTV and Food Network can be addicting, one channel I haven't watched in years is Animal Planet. From what I remember, they used to have good programming, but now it's become somewhat of an embarrassment (though they do air Whale Wars which gives them some props).

When I was at my parent's house over the holidays, they introduced me to a cool show called Treehouse Masters that was on Animal Planet, believe it or not. I was that kid that saw a tree and was halfway up it before anyone knew it, dreaming of one day having a treehouse to call my own. They watched a bunch of episodes while I was there, and I often took to brewing a hot cup of tea or golden milk at the end of an evening and joining them.

In one episode, they introduced the idea of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku as it's known in Japanese. I'm always interested in learning new terms that can grasp at meaning and be more expressive than the current confines of the English language allow. Shinrin-yoku is a rich and alive way to explain the healing that one can experience when immersed in nature.

Shinrin-yoku is the concept that by just being present in nature, the forest has healing effects on the body. The scientifically-proven benefits include:

  • a boost in immune function
  • lowering of blood pressure and stress levels
  • increased energy and focus
  • accelerated recovery from illness and injury
  • improved memory, mood, and sleep

As you might imagine, there are many other reported benefits that have not been scientifically proven. I find this idea fascination, and deep down I know it to be true. Until not so long ago, we were people of the natural world, not people trying to box it out.

Antimicrobial essential oils in wood, phytoncides, are thought to be responsible for many of the positive benefits of forest bathing. I am curious if some of the benefits could be created with essential oils and aromatherapy in times like winter when it's not always feasible to get my nature time in. It's definitely not the same thing, but it may be useful.

It was insanely cold here for the winter, and I was missing my walks through the woods so much. Nature helps me to process things, it recharges me when I'm fatigued, and it generally makes me feel more connected. Temperatures were in the negatives for a big part of the winter, and there were several times that I needed a walk deep in the woods. If I wanted to turn into a beautiful icicle statue, I could've tried to venture out. Alas, I had to stay inside. Though I missed my nature therapy, it turned out more brilliantly than I could've thought. I had to find another way to go within and replenish my spirits, and that's how I became intimately acquainted with meditation!

J, Tucker, and I have been meandering through tree-lined paths ever since the temperatures began to rise. Between the nature time and the warmer (40 degrees is warm, right?!) temperatures, I feel like I've awakened from a long period of hibernation. All of the birds singing their melodies would agree. And soon, we'll see blossoms on trees and lush green grass, and I'll be swooning over this bright, beautiful earth all over again.

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