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Forest Bathing...even when you don't have a forest

Updated: May 13, 2021

Have you heard of "forest bathing?" In Japan, it is called shinrin yoku. The idea is that you go into the forest, amongst the trees and relax, breath deeply, and take in the atmosphere and the calm, quiet beauty of nature. Medical professionals there prescribe it as a treatment for all sorts of ailments, especially for stress reduction.

In Norway, where my extended family lives, they have Friluftsliv, which translates in English as "free air life." Norwegians are well known for their love and appreciation of nature and the outdoors, regardless of the weather. Schools there encourage outdoor play for students, and find that time in the woods helps children focus and learn better.

Trees are remarkable. When I was young, my sister and I would spend hours in the woods walking, playing, making things from sticks and leaves and moss. There was always something mesmerizing to look at or touch or listen to. I recently learned that trees actually release substances into the air that communicate to the other trees around them, resulting in the other trees releasing those same substances, forming a protective circle to combat pests, etc. These substances, called phytoncides, also provide benefits to humans. They have been found to increase the immune response, improve attention span, boost energy levels, help with insomnia, and even lower blood pressure. (Sounds like a lot of the same benefits of meditation, doesn't it?) That's a lot of benefit from a wander in the woods!

So, you're sold on the benefits of forest bathing, right? But what can you do if you don't happen to live near a forest? First of all, there may be a wooded area closer than you think, even if you live in an urban or suburban area. Try Googling "Forests near me" to see what comes up. You might find a new favorite spot. Alternatively, you can look for another area of natural beauty, like a meadow, a beach, or a lake. The important part is to find a place where you can walk slowly or sit quietly for at least 20 minutes (up to two hours if you can). Silence your phone, and, if you are with someone else, keep talking to a minimum to get the best results. Take it in with all of your senses, and see how it makes you feel. Spend time focusing on the good things all around you and the way your life is improving day by day. I'd love to hear about your experience with forest bathing, and how it supports your healthy lifestyle and spirit.

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