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By Lyn Chimera

This is not an article about taking a bath in the forest, although that does sound like a fun thing to do. “Forest bathing” refers to a relaxing effect like what you experience with a nice, long bath. This form of relaxation therapy began in Japan about 30 years ago. It is called shinrin-yoku. Shrinrin in Japanese means “forest” and yoku means “bath.” It is so effective that it has become part of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine and has spread around the world. The U.S. has developed a Certified Forest Therapy Guide to help people understand the process (see references below).

Forest bathing is much different than taking a walk or hike in the woods. It is done for relaxation and its health benefits (vs. just for exercise) so anyone can do it regardless of their fitness level. The object is to be in a forest or natural environment and connect with nature. People have always realized it is relaxing to be in nature and now there is science to prove it.

Studies have been done in Japan, as well as in the U.S., which show that forest bathing improves your immunity by strengthening and increasing natural killer (NK) cells. These cells target infections, viruses and cancer cells. There have been studies in the U.S. that showed improved healing and recuperation for patients in hospitals who simply had a view of trees out their window. Other benefits include reducing blood pressure, stress levels, and pulse rate. This form of relaxation reduces dopamine and cortisol levels, which in turn reduces stress levels and help improve sleep. Anxiety and depression are also improved.

It sounds too good to be true, so just how does this form of relaxation therapy work? You’ll notice a difference in the air in a forest. This is because trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Trees also give off organic compounds that support our immune systems (NK cells). Forests are cooler and the purified, moist, cool air is part of the benefit. The forest canopy forms a womb-like atmosphere surrounding you with greenery. There are clinics that charge you to breathe in high oxygen, moist air, but forest bathing is FREE!

Connecting with nature is more important than ever in our busy urban/suburban technology-filled lives. According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors. Much has been written about how modern lifestyles are contributing to increased stress levels in adults as well as children. This is not a new problem. Early in the last century, John Muir (the father of our National Parks) wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to realize that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” This is true more now than ever.

Simply spending some time in a forest can be therapeutic. This doesn’t require a long walk. Simply sitting on a log or bench and letting your senses experience the environment is beneficial. Listen to the birds, notice all the different colors of green in leaves and mosses, watch the chipmunks scurry, notice the light changes as the sun filters through the leaves, and breathe in that wonderful forest air. If a forest isn’t available to you, simply sitting under a tree can be therapeutic.

I have always found solace in forests. It’s my favorite environment. If I’m feeling particularly stressed, there are a few spots I go to and just sit and think things out or just sit and feel the stress fade away. I’m lucky to live where I have easy access to forests. If you don’t, take a drive to a local park. Wonderful parks surround us. One of my very favorite spots is the WNY Land Conservancy property, Owens Falls. It’s south of East Aurora, off Center Road. There is a walking trail that leads to benches in strategic locations for relaxing with amazing views of the forest, a ravine, and stream with waterfalls. There are many other parks that provide road access to lovely spots to sit. Give nature a try. It’s free and a wonderful way to spend an hour or two.

For more information, go to <shinrin-yoku,org>, <https://www.mamanatural.com/forest-bathing/>, or <https://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/>.

To contact me at Lessons from Nature, call 652-2432 or e-mail at lyn@lessonsfromnature.biz. I can e-mail or mail the gift certificates.