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Forest Bathing for Improved Health

I have always been an outdoorsy nature person. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time outside – my parents had the hardest time getting me to come back inside at the end of the day. My love of nature continues, and I will share my passion for it with anyone who will listen! I am always dragging my family to state parks, zoos, and botanical gardens. But times are changing drastically, with the popularization of technology, along with urbanization, and people spend way less time outdoors and around nature. On average, Americans spend 93% of their time inside developing a "nature deficiency syndrome." So why is this a big deal?

Besides nature helping us to be connected to something larger than ourselves, research is finding many benefits to being outside or just around green spaces. I recently attended a workshop called "Awakening in Nature" that focused on this connection. A long list of journal articles highlighting research on what could be called "ecotherapy" showed that being in nature can:

  • Significantly improve mild depression through walks and gardening
  • Decrease rumination and aggressiveness
  • Improve creative problem solving
  • Increase one's ability to think about and solve personal problems and improve creative problem solving
  • Reduce stress

There are programs and studies that target veterans with PTSD, teenagers needing assistance with treating addictions, relationship issues and low self-esteem, and children with ADD/ADHD with nature interventions and they have all had very positive results.

The World Health Organization identifies stress and low physical activity as two of the leading contributors to premature death in developed nations. So could nature be the answer when exposure to nearby nature can effectively reduce stress, and simply having a view of nature produces recovery benefits?

The people of Japan are already invested in this belief. Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing, is a practice of simply being in the forest and paying attention with all your senses. This belief in the healing factor of nature is so strong in Japan that their healthcare system will prescribe it for physical and mental health, and insurance will cover it. And over 2.5 million Japanese practice forest bathing so they can reset their nervous systems, find focus again and heal.

Anyone can practice this. The main suggestion is to get outside! But it doesn't have to be a forest, but could be a local park or even your backyard. Turn off your phone! Take your time and just take in the silence or sounds of nature. Try to engage all your senses – what you see, hear, feel. Just focus on what's around you and what's going on in that moment and appreciate what you experience. You may even want to meditate, journal or draw.

If you have more interest in this topic, you can Google forest bathing or nature therapy or check out these books:

  • Forest bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness – by Qing Li
  • The Healing Earth – by Phillip Sutton Chard
  • The Nature Fix – by Florence Williams

I'll leave you with this thought: "A remedy we can never have enough of is a healthy dose of nature", Henry David Thoreau