What is forest bathing? What are the benefits?

forest bathing

What is forest bathing? What are the benefits?

What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing is a form of ecotherapy that first emerged in Japan in the 1980s, when the government encouraged its workers to de-stress by reconnecting with nature.

Known as Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, forest bathing is the practice of “taking in the forest atmosphere” by walking slowly and aimlessly through the trees and paying conscious attention to one’s surroundings.

A blend of mindfulness and aromatherapy, it can be done by anyone, regardless of their fitness level. And what’s more, it brings real health benefits.

Traditionally, forest baths last for around two hours, as this is long enough to reap the full benefits. But if you don’t have two hours, even ten or twenty minutes spent in a forest can make you feel happier and more relaxed. In fact, you don’t even need a forest to benefit; anywhere with trees will do – whether it’s your garden or your local park.

You don’t need any devices (or swimming trunks) to forest bathe, either – all you need is your body. If you’d like expert instruction, you can take a qualified guide who will teach you various exercises for connecting with the forest.

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to forest-bathing:

1. First, find a place that suits you. Choose somewhere with plenty of light, as far as possible from the rumble of roads and urban life.

2. Turn off your phone – or better still, leave it at home. It’s time to disconnect from technology and immerse yourself in the present moment. If you’re walking with a friend, be silent and share your experiences at the end.

3. Start walking at a leisurely pace. Let your body be your guide. Notice the space around you, the colours, the scents, the sounds of birds and rustling rodents, the soft wind sifting through the leaves. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Run your hands along the rough bark of a tree. Breathe from your diaphragm, and let the forest enter into you.

forest bathing

The benefits of forest bathing

Over the last three or four decades, forest bathing has grown in popularity throughout the world, fuelled in equal measure by mounting evidence of its powerful benefits and our increasingly indoors and screen-centred lives.

Dr Qing Li, the world’s leading expert on forest therapy, has been at the forefront of research in this field, conducting several studies into the effects of Shinrin-yoku on human health.

In a 2016 study, Dr Li asked 19 middle-aged subjects to take a day trip to a forest park, where they walked 2.6km for 80 minutes in both the morning and afternoon. As a control, they also walked for the same distance and duration in an urban environment. Blood and urine samples were taken before and after each trip, while blood pressure and heart rate were monitored throughout the exercise. The psychological state of each participant was also assessed before, during and after each trip.

The results showed that the forest bathing trip significantly reduced the blood pressure and pulse rate of the participants, as well as their scores for depression, anxiety, confusion and fatigue. Urinary adrenaline and dopamine were also lower after forest bathing, suggesting that the activity had a calming effect on the subjects.

forest bathing benefits

In other studies, forest bathing has also been shown to support immune system function. The results of several trials reveal that the essential oils (or phytoncides) emitted by trees, when inhaled, increase the number and activity of human Natural Killer (NK) cells, which protect the body from pathogens by killing tumours and infected cells. This effect, in turn, may induce the production of intracellular anti-cancer proteins.

Phytoncides, such as α-pinene and limonene, are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by the leaves, roots and flowers of trees and other plants. Derived from the Greek phyto (plant) and cide (kill), plants release these compounds to defend against predatory attacks, as well as to attract certain insects and animals, and communicate with each other when they are in danger or distress.

Another type of VOC abundant in forest air are terpenes, which serve a similar function to phytoncides. Terpenes are compounds that produce the scents and flavours of many plants and fruits, including pine trees, lavender and oranges. Like phytoncides, they’re released by plants to attract or repel other organisms, and offer potential health benefits to humans.

Terpenes: The link between forest bathing and CBD

Some of the benefits of forest bathing can be reaped even if you don’t have access to a forest, garden or trees. Terpenes, which are inhaled while forest bathing, are found in abundance in the cannabis plant, and often used as active ingredients in cannabis products, like CBD oil.

Indeed, most broad-spectrum CBD oils contain terpenes, as they are thought to interact with the other cannabis compounds in the extract to enhance its overall effectiveness – a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect”.

So, how do you condense some of the aromatic benefits of forest bathing into a bottle of CBD oil? For Naturecan, the first step is to use supercritical CO2 extraction to strip away CBD, terpenes and other desirable phytochemicals from the cannabis plant.

Next, we use chromatography and distillation to remove the intoxicating cannabinoid, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and other impurities, while retaining terpenes, minor cannabinoids and other valuable cannabis compounds.

The end product is a pure oil, composed of a rich and potent mix of phytochemicals, that is capable of delivering the potential benefits of the terpenes and the entourage effect.

forest bathing benefits

Planting trees: For health, happiness and survival

As we have seen, trees benefit our health in many ways – and forest bathing is one way we can access these benefits.

At Naturecan, we understand the importance of trees for our health, happiness and survival. That’s why we plant one tree for every order we receive. Through our partnership with the Eden Reforestation Project, we have been helping to reverse deforestation in Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique, while supporting the livelihoods of local communities.

Not only are trees vital to our wellbeing, they are the lungs of the earth, producing the oxygen we and all other animals breathe and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Aside from providing us with air, fuel, shelter, and timber, they’re also valuable allies in the global effort against climate change and the cascading losses of habitat and biodiversity.

According to a paper published in Nature in 2015, there are 3 trillion trees on earth, and 15 billion are cut down each year. Worldwide, the number of trees has fallen by 46% in the 12,000 years since the beginning of civilization.

It’s essential that we protect and restore our forests, not only for ourselves, but for future generations and all other species. But we cannot expect people to truly care for something they do not feel connected to. Therefore, the first step towards real change must be to reconnect – to open our senses to the living world around us, and rediscover our place within it. Forest bathing is one powerful way of doing that.

Alex Coughlan
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