How Forest Bathing Can Calm and Heal Our Minds and Nervous Sytems
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” ~John Muir
What do you think and feel when you see or go into the forest? What kind of emotions does this wondrous place of tranquility and solitude evoke for you?
Today, we are going to see how being in the lush deep green atmosphere of a forest can bring healing to you and calm your nervous system.
Have you ever heard of forest bathing? Forest bathing is just what it sounds like…bathing yourself in the healing atmosphere of the forest.
Forests are an amazing resource to us. They provide oxygen for breathing, help to purify the air we breathe, and the water we drink, they stop flooding rivers and streams, they stop the erosion of mountains and hills, they provide us with food, shelter, water, and materials we need for furniture and tools. Forests also help to provide us with herbs, barks, flowers, berries, roots, and wild mushrooms that we can use medicinally in the healing of our minds and bodies.
Dr. Qing Li, an Associate Professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, is one of the world’s leading experts in forest bathing. He is also one of the directors of the Forest Therapy Society in Japan. He wrote a book in 2018 called “Forest Bathing.” Forest bathing in Japanese is called Shinrin-Yoku. Shinrin-Yoku is a bridge to open our senses and bridge the gap between us and our natural world.
How do You Forest Bathe?
When you are looking for a forest near you to practice the art of forest bathing, try to find a place that suits your desires. Do you like to see the tall trees, changing of the seasons, hear the water trickling in a nearby stream, do you like to see the view of the mountains and lakes…do you want all of these in your experience? Whatever you desire for your specific experience, look for a place where you can feel comfortable, somewhere that will fill your heart with joy and your mind and body with peace and tranquility.
Walk as slow as you like, it is important not to hurry through the forest. This is not an experience of hiking, running, or getting a good work out. This is meant to be a peaceful experience to enjoy and not to burn calories.
Notice your surroundings, smell the fresh forest air and see what else your senses notice. Take time to learn about yourself and about what you like to do to relax in the forest…going slow will lead you closer to the healing of this experience…going too fast and you might miss your way.
You may like to take a journal into the forest and journal about your experience. You might also enjoy sketching in your journal some lovely sights you are seeing.
Notice how you feel and what kind of emotions come up for you…
One of my favorite things to do when I feel stressed or need an answer to a question, I take a walk among nature and I listen…listen to what God has to tell me… what I am too busy to hear Him say to me in the business of my life…in the stillness of the time between me and Him…I listen. I’ve gotten some amazing answers and creative ideas during this special time between me and the Lord…
Whatever resonates and feels safe for you during this quiet time in the forest or among nature, is what I invite you to do.
At the end of this article is a forest exercise for you to do, if you wish, during your quiet and special time being in nature.
Healing Benefits of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is simply the description of how trees and nature can help us find health and happiness. Spending 2 hour or less in the forest can help you to destress and relax. Forest bathing slows us down and takes us away and unplugs us from technology. Forest bathing has been shown to have the following health benefits:
Lowers the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline
Suppresses the sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight…survival mode”
Enhances the parasympathetic “rest, recover, and heal” part of our nervous system
Increases heart rate variability (the variation of time between consecutive heartbeats)
Lowers blood pressure
Improves cardiovascular and metabolic health
Lowers blood-sugar levels
Improves concentration and memory
Improves pain thresholds
Boosts our immune systems with an increase in our NK cells (natural killer cells)
Increases anti-cancer protein production
Improves sleep (the average sleep time after a 2 hour forest walk increased by 15%, or 54 minutes)
The scents and powerful essential oils of the forest can have an enormous impact on calming our nervous system
Walking in nature and the forest can help to clear our minds, help us to think, and to activate our creative mind. Walking in nature has also been shown by researchers at Stanford University to help us stop brooding over our problems and worries, alleviating feelings of anxiety and negative emotions. Being in nature and the forest actually increases positive thoughts and can help us to see our lives in a better light.
Profile of Moods Test (POMS Test)
In the book “Forest Bathing” Dr. Qing Li did a study on participants before and after they did forest bathing. The test he used is called “The POMS Test” (Profile of Moods test). This is a questionnaire to measure psychological well-being, developed in 1971. He had the participants take this test before and after they went forest bathing. The scores were astounding, meaning that the participants moods were markedly improved after forest bathing. I have included the test for you in the link below if you would like to experiment with this for yourself.
Bringing the Forest Inside to You
If you aren’t able to go out forest bathing for any reason, I invite you to bring the forest inside to your home by:
Filling your home with plants. Plants help to clean the polluted air in our homes and are known as natural air purifiers. They act like sponges, soaking up toxic chemicals found in paints, fabrics, furniture, cleaning products, cigarettes, carpets, etc… Plus they’re absolutely beautiful! They brighten up your home with life and all different healing shades of green lush wonder.
Plants also help to raise the level of humidity inside, which helps to prevent illness, such as: respiratory problems, coughs, and sore throats. It’s so wonderful to have living plants in your home!
Here are the top 10 air cleaning plants according to NASA:
Peace Lily, Golden Pothos, English Ivy, Chrysanthemum, Gerbera Daisy, Mother in Law’s Tongue, Bamboo Palm, Azalea, Red-Edge Dracaena, and Spider Plant…also very good are Snake Plants, Money Plants, Boston Ferns, Aloe Vera, and Areca Palms
You can also diffuse essential oils that are scents and healing fragrances from the forest plants, such as;
Pine, Cedarwood, Vetiver, Spruce, Tea Tree
You can burn beeswax candles or incense, giving you the warm smoky scents from the forest. I will discuss these further in the next few articles for you but wanted to mention them here as a way to bring in the natural scents of the forest into your home.
Would you ever have imagined how being in the atmosphere of the forest can have such a healing impact on our body, mind, and spirit?
I leave you with a forest exercise taken from the book “Forest Bathing.” This is an exercise for you to do the next time you have the opportunity to take a forest bath of your own or enjoy the forest in your own home…
Finding Your Feelings in the Forest
When you are in the forest, notice your emotional response to being there
Start by closing your eyes. See if you can feel which way you want to walk. Use your intuition.
Notice all the sensual pleasures of the forest
What do you feel when you hear the breeze in the trees and songs of the birds?
What do you feel when you smell the forest fragrance?
What do you feel when the sun warms your face, or you lie on the ground?
What do you feel when you taste the fresh air?
Let time drop away and, with it, all your worldly worries…
What do you feel now?
I pray you enjoy this healing tool of being in nature and forest bathing and that you can use them to destress in your own life of business… I invite you to try it…and I would love to hear about your experience if you would like to share it with me.
May you feel peace today my friend,
“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Sleep in forgetfulness of an ill.” ~John Muir
“The forest is a quiet place if only the best birds sing” ~Kay Johnson