Have we all been overpowered by our increasing (nonstop) use of technology? There are so many types of technology surrounding us that we can barely keep up with all of our gadgets. From our wearable items to our personal laptops, tablets, and phones to behind-the-scenes technology that furthers medicine, science, and education – the list is innumerable!
Obviously technology is here to stay, but it’s always morphing and expanding – and sometimes that can be daunting. As each new technology enters the scene, it has the potential to improve our everyday lives – but it can also have a very negative impact on our health both physically and emotionally.
Just as we’re aware (even if we intentionally suppress this knowledge) that fruit is a much better choice than ice cream for dessert…we are also clear that a long walk in nature will make us feel worlds better (from a mind and body connection) than spending untold of hours on a social media website full of pictures of folks claiming they are living their “best lives” in an effort to outdo others attempt at – well – just living.
There is no doubt, and tons of research to back it up, that being in nature can make us feel exhilarated and clear minded. We have known this for centuries. The sounds of the forest, the sunlight shining through the leaves of a group of trees, the fresh, clean air — these various natural phenomenas give us a sense of comfort. They ease our stress and worry, help us to relax and to think more clearly. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality – it is simply a way for us to feel more refreshed and rejuvenated!
We are exposed to so many alarming negative elements creeping into our lives that people are developing chronic illnesses and long-term disabilities. In many societies across the globe extensive technology users cite that they often find themselves in a dark and gloomy mist of depression and anxiety. Not to be overly dramatic…BUT….Is this a mist that will eventually take-away their hopes, their imagination, their creativity and enslave them in an existence far, far away from nature? Will they forget about the tremendous amount of scenic beauty and the mesmerizing benefits that are entrenched in the outside world around them?
As technology options grow and humans(hopefully) begin to seek out ways to escape from the tangled mess of the so-called developed world; Japanese ancestors are shown to have recognized the benefit of a beautiful nature practice called Shinrin-yoku.
So What is Shinrin-Yoku?
In Japan, they take time out of their busy lives to practice something called forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Essentially we are bathing in the forest atmosphere – or taking in the forest through our senses.
Don’t get scared – this is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. And it definitely doesn’t insinuate that you need a towel because you’re headed to the forest to take a tub! It’s simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is sometimes referred to as a connector because by opening our senses, it bridges the chasm between us and the outside world of nature.
Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Many people that practice Shinrin- yoku claim that they do so in an effort to re-establish their bond of human with nature – or just establish a bond if they felt they never had one in the first place!
By practicing forest bathing we are activating our senses in their true essence, refreshing our minds and letting nature organically heal our bodies with the magical effects of the outdoors. Many pieces of research have shown that this seemingly oversimplified phenomenon has psychological and medical benefits and is in fact able to cure many deadly diseases that have now decreased life expectancy and dramatically reduced positive mental and physical health.
Shinrin-Yoku is now widely used in Japanese as a prominent healthcare initiative and as a result of extensive ongoing research it has been recognized as a valid form of natural therapy and alternative medicine. Qualitative research cites that “human beings feel more energetic and healthy when they are surrounded by a lush green environment moreover they forget their sorrows and think of how purposeful life can be.” When we witness – up close and personally – how nature functions and how even the tiniest of the creature holds great value, we organically gain hope and becomes optimistic about life. Nature architects (yes, this is an actual profession) say that decades ago innovative landscapers who started building gardens in the centers of busy cities to improve the beauty had no idea who they were promoting calm amongst the general masses! Nature in any form can be an elixir for the stressed soul – but taking it to the forest can prove to be a real health booster!
What are the Health Benefits of Shinrin-Yoku?
Cardiovascular Improvements and Overall Relaxation
Many empirical tests and experiments have proven that the medical benefits associated with Shinrin-yoku can be significant. For instance, it was found that the heart rate and blood pressure decreased significantly when study participants were surround by nature – and specifically when they spent a two-or-three hour periods being guided through a forest environment. Many additional randomized control trials proved that natural therapy decreased the activation of the renin-angiotensin system – a hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid and electrolyte balance, as well as systemic vascular resistance. Forest bathing is said to have reduced the pressure on the heart and improved overall cardiac functions. The cardiovascular relaxation caused the blood glucose level to decrease as well which is considered a potential way to decrease the impact of diabetes for some patients.
The diastolic and systolic pressures were taken before the walk started and immediately after the walk ended. The results showed that these levels decreased dramatically and participants reported feeling more relaxed and calm after a gentle walk through the forest. They also stated they felt more focused and their mind was open to learning. One very important reaction that participants expressed was that they felt their level of creativity was boosted.
In many further tests gender, age and background of the participants were changed yet the positive results were the same, so it was concluded that regardless of age, gender and the previous amount of exposure to nature, the therapy proved to be equally beneficial for everyone.
Can Shinrin-yoku Improve my Sensory Control?
Apart from relief of negative cardiovascular symptoms another major health benefit was found to be a positive effect on sensory control. As a result of forest bathing, research indicates that you may start to gain more control over your senses, the five distinct and very special senses often are exhausted due to overuse in our everyday harried and overwhelming experience we call “life.” Shinrin-yoku nurtures your senses, enhances your sensory capabilities and gives you more control over how to use your senses in a manner that will be beneficial (even if you’re not in a forest environment).
If we just take a moment to look around at different people we tend to find children who are so young that they can’t even walk but are wearing eyeglasses. We find students in their early teens wearing hearing devices due to weak listening power. Some naturist feel that perhaps this is all because we have gone too deep into cites and urbanization that we have surrounded ourselves with massive noises and poor environments and therefore our delicate senses cannot bear the pressure. That might be pushing it but perhaps there is some sort of “there – there”….
Forest bathing can certainly prove to be a healthy and recreational break for our body so that it can have some rest from the exhausting and overburdened environment we have created all around us, which is just by its pure existence very foreign to the natural way our body reacts. One influential Shinrin-yoku practitioners was cited as saying that “the human never feels lonely in the forest, we feels emotionally attached, we feel linked with the trees, linked with the enchanting sounds of nature and reborn in an ideal world.” Sounds, and feels, good to me!
Can Shinrin-yoku Enhance My Personality?
Forest bathing can also play an important role in creating an improvement in your day to day personality, mindset and a clearer thought process. According to research, trees and plants release a special chemical that helps improve one’s emotions and lower your overall stress level. The chemical is called a Phytoncide and it is a substance emitted by plants & trees and generally means the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate. Phytoncides are produced to help plants & trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs. Apparently this practice also helps humans protect themselves from negative thoughts!
Furthermore, forest bathing has been shown to increase your attention span by allowing you to feel more in the moment. If it helps naturally strengthen my attention so that I can pay attention without getting distracted by the texts coming in very five seconds while I am trying to writ this article – I am ALL in!!!
Shinrin-yoku is also said have create the ability for us to increase the capability of our minds ability to store memories. Many people tend to lose parts of their short or long term memory as they grow older and others fall prey to diseases like Alzheimer’s etc. Research states that Shinrin-Yoku surprisingly provides nutrition to the brain and strengthens your memory, studies have shown that forest bathing can lower your chance of dementia if you keep up with it regularly.
For many folks life is full of tensions, depression, and the ongoing race for money and fame has made humans increasingly greedy and stressed out! Have we forgotten the true characteristics of humanity and lost the soft tender heart that we all had when we were born? Many forest bathers say the practice is a supernatural phenomenon that calms your nerves and makes you more kind and empathetic. Perhaps the natural environment and the fresh air which you breathe in the forest can open up the closed chambers of kindness and humanity and release more love in our hearts.
One alarming issue that the world faces today is the excessive use of alcohol abuse and drugs amongst youngsters, perhaps forest bathing can provide enough concentration and will power that one can commit to nature instead of other types of “uppers.” That remains to be seen as very little research has been done in this area. Who knows maybe forest bathing can act as an outside rehabilitation center free of cost and highly effective for those who need it? Clearly this would only be one part of the treatment journey yet it is a great way to improve our overall feelings. There is certainly proof that if you do enough forest bathing you can become internally strong and those who take part in the practice report feeling less pain – mind and body. It is also seen that individuals all around the world have reduced acute physiological distress with the time spent in natural and healthy environments. Patients who have chronic stress reported that they felt a great reduction in feelings of anxiety when they spent more time in the forest walking.
The insinuation is definitely not to participate in forest bathing to such an extent that you leave all of your work and family and go settle in a random forest somewhere! By practicing Shinrin-yoku it is simply meant that we should carve out enough time from our busy schedules to spend each day in a healthy environment so that the medical and emotional benefits can will present themselves and give our bodies a much needed kick start to a healthy lifestyle!
So How Do we “Do” Shinrin-Yoku?
First of all – leave all your mobile phones, tablets and laptops aside and go out into the forest with “sans” technology. Let nature take hold of your sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell and in fact, let it take hold of your entire being! Breathe deeply inhaling from the nose and exhaling from the mouth, listen to the sounds of nature and refresh your mind with the sight. Find a healthy suitable spot which comforts you, do what pleases you if you want to feel the earth just take your shoes off…if you like the smell of wet mud do pick some up and bring it to your nose, let your body relax and enjoy every moment and every sense….Ok – so if all of this sounds overwhelming feel free to go on a more structured walk with a guide…still the same results you just now don’t have to think about any of the logistics! You can find walks and guides any time at Forest Bathing Finder – it’s a complete resource for all of your Shinrin-yoku resources!
The hours we spend looking at our screens is increasing dramatically and frankly this has become a very alarming situation as the excessive use of technology is dragging us away from our family, friends – even ourselves. We have started to grow somewhat fatigued (mentally and physically) due to our heavy dependency on machines. Our inactivity is also causing us to lose our health by sitting all day in front of the TV and the internet. Forest bathing is immensely important especially in modern-day life, in the so-called age of modern technology, it removes the doubt that has taken over our mind that human beings cannot live without constantly being on our phone or computer. Shinrin-yoku helps you regain your inner strength, and facilitates your ability to build a better and broader open-minded personality. And if we take this in macro terms forest bathing is one of the components that may be important in a global effort for us to build an ideal (peaceful) society, with the true meaning of humanity as the ultimate goal – “human beings acting collectively.”
We need to create awareness about Shinrin-Yoku within the younger generation so that we can save them from being slaves to their digital machines. There is a need for extensive research to be produced showing the ongoing health benefits of sometimes replacing daily internet browsing with daily walks – of the Shinrin-yoku type. Shinrin-Yoku can be your escape from the everyday world. By practicing Shinrin-yoku you have the ability to fill your body and mind with the peace that might be missing in your day to day life. It (re)-connects you to nature and all of your surroundings.
The closer we all are to nature, the more alive and uplifted we fill! Shinrin-yoku can act as the bridge between humans and nature. By connecting humans to the very roots of humanity that lies within nature, it enhances our mental health and serves as a much needed source of relaxation. Humans are looking for a connection; a connection with our roots and a connection with what truly matters. The world, with its rapidly growing technology use and overwhelming lifestyle has gradually taken away the peace of mind that we all strive for with our friends and family. It is in this way, that we find serenity and peace!