In Japanese, Shinrin means ‘Forest’ and Yoku means ‘bath’ so the literal translation of Shinrin-Yoku is ‘Forest-bath’. However, Shinrin-Yoku is so much more than its literal translation and encompasses the experience of bathing in the sights, the sounds the smells, touch and even the taste of the forest and using our senses to connect to the purity of its health-giving bounty.
Where and how did it originate?
Shinrin-Yoku was recognised as a health-supporting activity in Japan in 1982 when the then Director of the ‘Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Agency’ stated that the people of Japan were in need of healing through Nature. A national programme of Shinrin-Yoku was initiated and today, between 2.5 million and 5 million Japanese people walk through the designated forest trails every year.
What is so special about the forest environment?
Forests are steeped in mystery and legend and Japanese people have been worshipping in the forest for millennia. The first designated forest bathing trails in Japan were laid in the Akasawa forest where the Hinoki or Japanese cypress trees grow to huge heights and their deep green needles emanate their unmistakable pungent pine fragrance. Connection with Nature and the natural world is the foundation of Japanese culture with Shinto and Buddhism forming the main religions of Japan. Shintoism is based on the worship of nature spirits called ‘kami’ who are believed to inhabit the landscape in rocks, tress, the breeze and water.
What are the benefits of Shinrin-Yoku?
Dr. Qing Li, an Associate professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo is considered the godfather of Shinrin-Yoku and is one of the world’s leading medical experts on Forest Bathing. Dr Li’s countless scientific studies dating back 15 years have shown that being in the forest helps you sleep better, reduces your blood pressure, improves healing from illness, improves your concentration, your memory and your energy levels.
Walking in the forests allows your parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and recovery part of your brain – to take over from your sympathetic nervous system – where your flight or fight response resides. As a result, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure decreases and so do your stress and cortisol levels.
Another significant finding of Dr. Qing Li was that the fragrance that cypress, pine and spruce trees in particular emit, is made up of chemicals called Phytoncides of which the major components are terpenes. In experiments conducted by Dr Li over many years he showed that exposure to terpenes in a forestry setting significantly increases our bodies’ killer cell activity which fight infection. Exposure to terpenes also enhances the activity of anti-cancer proteins and were found in one medical study in Japan to be more effective than anti-depressants for lifting mood.
How to practice Shinrin-Yoku in your own life
With all these proven health benefits you might be eager to incorporate Shinrin-Yoku into your own life. You can start your own forest bathing programme simply by finding a forest– preferably with a concentration of evergreen tree species and going right into the middle of it where the trees are the most dense and practicing measured breathing. Try standing in the forest with your eyes closed to heighten your senses and listen, taste and smell the atmosphere.
If you would like more instruction on Forest Bathing I will be launching my own forest guided Shinrin-Yoku experience in Spring 2020 as part of my Wellness programs . You can also take a look at your local Wildlife Trust or Ecotherapy centre who may also offer guided Shinrin-Yoku.
As always, Stay Well – Natasha x