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Shinrin-yoku comes from Japan. It is spending time among the trees. Forest therapy lowers blood pressure, improves immunity, and helps to reduce stress. Check what is a forest bath for he alth, how it differs from an ordinary walk, how long it should last and whether shinrin-yoku can be practiced in the city.

Shinrin-yoku was born in Japan and literally means a forest bath. This he alth-promoting practice of contact with nature gained popularity in the 1980s as part of a nationwide program to improve the he alth of the Japanese. Its aim was to alleviate the effects of stress experienced at work.

Currently, shinrin-yoku is popular all over the world. It consists in free, relaxing walks among the trees and perceiving the natural surroundings with all the senses. Thanks to forest baths, you can be he althier, calmer and happier. Being in the bosom of nature also helps to develop and sharpen our senses.

The origins of shinrin-yoku in Japan

In the 1980s, the influence of the forest on humans was started by the Japanese. In the beginning, the aim was to encourage people to commune with nature as part of the forest protection campaign. Although Japan is highly urbanized and densely populated, it is also a heavily forested country. At the beginning, however, it was based only on an intuitive belief in the beneficial effects of forests, and in 2004, serious research was launched.

A dedicated research group has been established in this field. The term shinrin-yoku was coined, which literally means "forest baths", that is, immersing yourself in the forest and absorbing it with all your senses. There are special places (forests, but also gardens and parks) for practicing shinrin-yoku, and there are also routes for hiking. Forest therapy has become one of the recognized and scientifically established methods of caring for he alth.

A statement by the author of Dr. Quing Li, the author of the book "Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Theory of Forest Bathing ”(2022, Insignis edition): - I am a medic and work at the Nippon Medical School Hospital. I am also the president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine. For over 30 years I have been exploring the secrets of forest therapy called shinrin-yoku. In Japan itself, there are many facilities that provide services related to forest medicine. They offer, among others therapies to restore normal blood pressure and courses andaromatherapy training. Some of these institutions cooperate with foreign forest medicine centers, exchanging knowledge about the beneficial effects of forest baths.

Read : Therapeutic power of specific tree species

What are the benefits of a forest bath?

Thanks to the analysis of specific biomarkers, we know what is happening in the body when we are in a forest, park or garden. The level of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) lowers, the heart rate slows down, and the blood pressure drops. In addition, variability in sinus rhythm (this is the most important biomarker of stress) increases, and the higher the better - it means more relaxation. All these indicators speak of a reduction in stress levels.

The forest is an invaluable aid in the fight against low mood. It reduces anxiety, anger, depression and weariness, and adds energy. By comparing the moods of people practicing physical activity with those walking in the woods, it is known that only movement is not responsible for the healing effect.

In addition, the forest improves the condition of people with depression, and for all those who use this therapy, it improves memory and concentration. It helps with sleep disorders, both those related to difficulties in falling asleep, insomnia, as well as intermittent sleep and premature waking up.

Walking in the woods can improve immunity. One day spent in contact with nature increases the number of NK cells (natural killers, cells of the immune system that detect and destroy cancer cells or cells attacked by a virus). Interestingly, a stay in the forest was compared to a weekend in a tourist destination to make sure it was not just a rest, and in the latter case, no increase in NK cells was observed.

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In addition, contact with the forest accelerates recovery after surgeries and relaxes the eyesight exhausted by a computer or smartphone.

Take advantage of the forest baths if:

  • You feel anxious, depressed, irritable, anxious.
  • You are depressed.
  • You have a sleep disorder.
  • You live under stress.
  • You want to strengthen the body's immunity.
  • You need to relax.
  • You have problems with high blood pressure.
  • You want better concentration, better memory.

What does the beneficial power of trees come from?

One of the factors responsible for the beneficial effects of shinrin-yoku forest are essential oils rich in phytoncides. These are volatile organic compounds secreted by plants to defend themselves against fungi,bacteria or insects. They are poisonous in high doses and medicinal in small doses. A phytoncide is, for example, allicin responsible for the antibiotic properties of garlic or allin responsible for tearing when cutting onions. These types of substances are also secreted by trees, and in vitro studies have shown that phytoncides are responsible for the growth of cancer-fighting cells.

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But essential oils aren't everything. Although we are so used to city life, the forest is our natural environment. We spent most of the time as a species there, and then in small settlements and villages, in close proximity to nature. The attachment to the forest as a place that enabled us to survive is somehow in our genes. We associate green with the presence of water, and therefore also food. We instinctively combine it with security.

We have been living in cities for a relatively short time, we have not evolved enough to fully adapt to the urban environment. Although it seems to us that we do not feel it and that we feel great in the city, it is harmful to us.

The crowd, hustle and bustle, and at the same time the social isolation characteristic of cities makes us more susceptible to mental diseases. In the city, the risk of developing depression is as much as 40% higher than in the natural environment, and for schizophrenia - twice.

Read also : What is depression and how is it treated?

This effect is probably due to a decrease in the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays important roles in the brain, caused by an excess of visual and auditory stimuli and the city's crowds. Skyscrapers - both living in them and being among them - also have a negative impact on us - as well as straight lines and sharp edges, which we perceive as alien to nature, threatening or likely to hurt us.

Forest bathing - the most important rules and video

What is the difference between an ordinary walk and a forest bath?In the first case, we usually focus on walking a certain distance - go from A to B. Time passes on talking, listening to music or an audiobook. The forest is the background, not the hero in this situation. If we decide to take a forest bath, we move slowly or not at all. It is about focusing attention on what is happening in the forest, what emotions it evokes in us and what signals our body sends us.

That's why we go to the forest without the so-called distractions, we turn off (or preferably leave at home) the phone. We go alone or in company. We spend time in the forest touching trees, leaves,moss, catching their smell (e.g. fir trees), how they rustle under the influence of the wind, how they change colors when the sun's rays fall on them.

If you have a problem to fully experience a forest bath, use the help of a guide (e.g. from the Forest Therapy Center), who will show you how to open your senses, how to switch from task mode to deep relaxation mode. Appropriate exercises help in this.

Here are the rules to follow when taking a forest bath:

  • Take your time.The Japanese talk about 2 km / h, it's really a very slow walk. If you feel tired, sit down and rest. Don't let anything distract you from being here and now. To do this, leave your phone at home or turn on airplane mode. Do not take your camera.
  • Don't talk about your problems.If you are walking in company, keep silent or talk about what you see. Avoid talking about stressful things. Observe and listen to what is happening around you: the rustle of leaves, birds singing.
  • Awaken your senses.Close your eyes for a moment and focus on the smell of the forest and the sounds. Touch moss, tree bark, grass, leaves. Usually we do it with our fingertips, but this time feel the different textures with the entire surface of the hand.

Which forest should I choose?

The Japanese have their definition of a forest. When we look upwards, 30% of the surface must be covered with leaves, and the trees must be tall enough. It does not have to be a primeval forest, and farmed forests are also suitable. It's good when they are located far from the highway, because the sense of hearing is very important in this form of therapy.

Read also:Recipe for pine syrup

Is it possible to practice forest bathing in the city?

To enjoy shinrin-yoku, just go to a nearby park. Research conducted by Dr. Quing Li has proven that just 2 hours of forest bathing, even in a small city park, can bring us numerous benefits. So if there is even a small park near your home or workplace, it is worth taking advantage of it and visiting it regularly, e.g. during a lunch break. It is also a good idea to arrange flowers and other plants at home and in the office. You can also reach for the appropriate essential oils and use it in workplaces and homes. This way you can enjoy the scent of the forest on a regular basis.

How quickly can you feel the shinrin-yoku effects?

It depends on many factors, including sensitivity to nature. If someone is skeptical, it takes longer. As a rule, calm people are able to relax much faster, and impulsive and energetic people need more time.

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