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Japanese Tradition of ‘Forest Bathing’ Quickly Becoming a New Trend

Travis Smola

New trend of “forest bathing” shows health benefits of nature. 

It seems like people are becoming more and more disconnected with nature these days. In fact, the Washington Post reports most Americans spend as much as 87 percent of their time indoors these days.

But have no fear, the new trend of “Forest Bathing” is here to get you back connected with nature and improve your health in the process too! So, many people are starting to participate in a Japanese practice known as Shinrin-yoku. The word translates into “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere” and it involves doing just that, going out and soaking in nature in all its glory for the health benefits.

The Washington Post reports the practice is becoming increasingly popular in places like California. “I think about where yoga was 30 years ago and where it is today, and I realize that forest therapy is making the same journey toward cultural definition in a way that will mainstream the practice,” forest therapy guide Ben Page told the Washington Post.

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Travis Smola

You may be thinking you already do this while out hunting and fishing or camping, but Shinrin-yoku is considered to be different because its focus is on the therapeutic effects of nature than the recreational ones.

“So whereas a nature walk’s objective is to provide informational content and a hike’s is to reach a destination, a Shinrin-yoku walk’s objective is to give participants an opportunity to slow down, appreciate things that can only be seen or heard when one is moving slowly, and take a break from the stress of their daily lives,” Page said.

Most outdoorsmen and women already know what a stress-relief any time spent in the outdoors can be. But there have actually been studies that seem to show Shinrin-yoku’s effects can go beyond that.

In one study, subjects on a three day trip to a forested area of Japan had their blood and urine tested before and after their time in the woods. Astonishingly enough, the participants’ bodies saw a 50 percent activity increase in specialized natural killer cells. These are white blood cells that combat infections or tumor cells.

There are also the studies showing Shinrin-yoku participants had lower blood pressures and heart rates. It turns out there is even scientific evidence of that stress reduction effect nature has that we all know and love. One study showed forest bathers ended up with lower levels of stress hormone salivary cortisol.

But why is soaking in nature through forest bathing so helpful? As the Washington Post notes, it may have something to do with invoking a sense of awe, something that has actually also been linked to health improvement through science.

No doubt you’ve experienced something similar before when coming across a nice view. I find myself in awe every time I view the a mountain or Lake Michigan.

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Travis Smola

Studies have been done studying effects of awe in such situations as the earth viewed from space by astronauts. University of Pennsylvania researcher David Yaden actually published a paper on this.

“We describe in the paper that this particular view of Earth produces both types of vastness – perceptual vastness of this sweeping view of the planet, but conceptual vastness of everything that the planet means to us as human beings,” Yaden said.

And apparently, being in nature can do much the same for your health. The concept of forest bathing is becoming popular enough that certification programs are starting for those wishing to be forest therapy guides.

“There have been studies comparing walking in nature with walking in an urban environment and testing people their mood, different aspects of depression, and in some cases, brain scans,” Yaden told the Washington Post. “In the natural setting, people are more relaxed and less stressed.”

The Japanese are definitely believers, as is evidenced by how seriously they take Shinrin-yoku.

“In Japan, Shinrin-yoku trails are certified by a blood-sampling study to determine whether the natural killer cell count is raised enough for the trail to qualify,” Page told the Washington Post. “I should also note that in Japan and Korea, forest therapy modalities are integrated into their medical system and are covered by insurance.”

I don’t know about you, but all this sounds like a good enough reason to spend more time in the outdoors to me!

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Japanese Tradition of ‘Forest Bathing’ Quickly Becoming a New Trend