Forest Bathing, Shinrin-yoku for you!

Posted by Candace Cable in Life After Paralysis on December 12, 2016 # Health

For the past 25 years I truly lived inside the super nova of evergreen, mostly pine tree forests blanketing the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Northern California. At any moment I could open my door, wheel out three paces, spin 360 degrees looking up or side to side and be within a fortress of pine trees, feeling the peace within the trees, just like that (here, imagine me snapping my fingers). I had no idea, then how much peace and ease these trees gave me by me just being amongst these healing towers.

But not anymore, it’s been just a year since I moved to the city of angels, Los Angeles, Southern California, a mega metropolis. I’m living in a studio apartment smack in the middle of downtown LA’s beating heart and I do love it. But I miss my easy access ever-present healing and huggable neighborhood pine forest that have now been replaced by square concrete and steel towering forests.

This new landscape pointed out to me that I one, I took that green space for granted and two, I must seek out green outdoor space to create my internal peace and space. But, by chance or intention, I know not which, I do have one consolation that I created when I moved to my city life apartment. There are stocks and stocks of bamboo growing straight up the center of my 5-story complex, an atrium of towering swaying green. I only have to open my door and there they are right in my direct line of sight. Nice score on my part, but I need more green.

The authors of books “Your Brain on Nature” and “Last Child in the Woods” are using a new term, “nature deficit disorder”, to describe a population of irritable, depressed, anxious people with high blood pressure that are hooked into non-stop technology, fast paced social media, multi tasking city folk who aren’t getting their needed, and we do need this, daily dose of green pause-in-the-action, re-boots to retain and build wellness in our bodies and brains.

One study sited that internet-addicted Chinese teens were showing signs of atrophy happening in the connective tissue throughout the areas of their brains that governed behavior and emotional control. The teens were truly losing parts of their minds and their ability to cope with daily life stresses from too much technology and not enough time in green spaces.

About three years ago I wrote a blog about Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist and vice director of Japan’s Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences Studies established just outside of Tokyo and his research on how human beings have a notably strong, positive attraction to green spaces, especially spaces with trees. This attraction he says is thanks to “throughout our evolution, we’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time in natural environments and our physiological functions (our bodies and brains) are still adapted to it.”

Chiba’s studies lead to the beginning of Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries 1982 studies on how to improve human’s health and wellness with green spaces. Those 1982 studies resulted in the creation of a practice called Shinrin-yoku, that translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” for the purpose of de-stressing and currently 5 million people yearly are hitting the forty-eight Forrest Therapy trails in Japan.

So, this Forest Bathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol and lowers blood pressure, relieves anxiety and depression and helps gain back a boosted immune system while creating clearer thinking, enhanced memory and deeper empathy. Wow, I was doing this without doing this when I lived in the mountains. What do you have to do on to get all the above? You just have to be, there. Just be, no workout routine, no counting pushes or steps, no stopwatch, no fitbit, in fact it’s better to take off that watch off all together, leave it in the car, but hide it in the glovebox so it doesn’t get stolen while you’re drifting along the trails.

The Forrest Therapy trails sound amazing, but what if you can’t get to one? You can create your own space and you don’t have to have the forest structure to get some of the benefits. You just have to be creative and be in a state of focused appreciation as you take a break. The effects will be the same, just not as strong and that’s why we have to direct our full attention to looking out a window at the natural world or looking at green landscape photographs and paintings while smelling the essential oils of pine, spruce and cypress.

By setting a timer for 15 minutes you won’t worry about time. Then settle down with some deep breathing, imagine you are in the forest and look for the smallest details in the landscape. When you mind begins to get restless, making a to do, ask your mind to relax and say “there’s time enough for the list later” then go back to smelling the essential oils and admiring the beauty before you.

I’ve found along the way of living this life I live, that I have to be ready to change, try something new and keep a close watch on how my mind and body feel to stay healthy and well in my body, mind and spirit. There will be all kinds of practices I will try, keep some and let some go that no longer serve me where I am in my life. This Shinrin-Yoku is a keeper and I’m going to look for places I can go to get some Forest Therapy and in a pinch I’ll hang out with my bamboo! Here’s a find I discovered, a Shinrin-Yoku starter kit.