Like many people, Gemma Hartley struggles with depression and anxiety. For five years, she used meditation to keep her symptoms in check. But one day, facing some tight writing deadlines at work, she felt herself beginning to slip back toward her old symptoms. This time, meditating wasn’t enough.
That’s when a friend told her about something the Japanese call Shinrin-Yoku. This roughly translates to Forest Bathing.
Forest bathing is a practice which involves walking slowly through a forest. While walking, forest bathers intentionally experience nature through all five senses. Unlike hiking, forest bathing is not about exercising. Rather, forest bathing is about connecting with the forest and letting go of worries.
Hartley decided to give it a go. She was led out into the forest with 30 others by a certified forest bathing guide. Under the treetops, she was encouraged to see, hear, feel, smell and taste the forest in new ways.
Afterward, she headed back to the city where she had a mountain of work to do. But instead of feeling stressed and agitated, she thought of the forest. Suddenly, the words flowed freely from her fingers. For Hartley, forest bathing had been a success.
In Japan, forest bathing is considered standard preventative medicine. And now, studies have confirmed its incredible benefits. That’s why other countries are beginning to follow suit. Instead of prescribing medications, some doctors are writing prescriptions for forest bathing.
Research shows that just a 15-minute leisurely walk in nature decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, by 19 percent. Blood pressure and heart rate also dropped. Considering that in the U.S., 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s visits are stress-related, this is very good news.
Forest bathing doesn’t just help humans to cope with stress. It also boosts the immune system. It turns out that trees produce a chemical that supports disease-killing cells in the human body.
In one experiment, participants walked in the forest twice a day for three days. Afterward, studies showed that they had 40 percent more white blood cells. These cells boost the immune system. A month later, their immune system still showed a 15 percent elevation.
Time in nature also works wonders on our cognitive performance. College students took tests before and after being in the wilderness for three days. They performed a whopping 50 percent better on cognitive tests after being in the wild.
Humans evolved in nature, and studies now show that’s where our bodies feel most at home. The next time you’re feeling down, remember just 15 minutes under the trees does a world of good.
If you happen to be one of the majority of humans who live in cities, don’t lose hope. Even looking at a picture of nature or diffusing pine tree essential oils in your home improves health.
You didn’t come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here.
– Alan Watts