Island Senior: Forest Bathing, an Antidote to Stress

Posted July 16, 2019 at 7:45 am by

Judy McRae Enjoy­ing a For­est Bath — Peg­gy Sue McRae photo

Island Senior is a reg­u­lar col­umn on the San Juan Update writ­ten by Peg­gy Sue McRae…

Most Islanders do not need to be remind­ed to appre­ci­ate the beau­ty of nature. It is why we live here. And yet, if you live here 24/7 you know that even our island par­adise is not immune to the stress­es of mod­ern life in these con­tentious times. Luck­i­ly for us it is not hard to find a patch of woods to enjoy what the Japan­ese call Shin­rin-yoku or For­est Bathing.

Refresh­ing ones spir­it in nature is of course noth­ing new. America’s great nat­u­ral­ist John Muir the father of our nation­al parks said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more that he seeks.” Yet, for­est bathing, as prac­ticed in Japan, began in the 1980s as a form of pre­ven­ta­tive health care to coun­ter­act the stress of an urban lifestyle.

For­est Bathing is not the same as a hike. There is no des­ti­na­tion and there is no hur­ry. Don’t take your phone or your cam­era. You can do it at a slow stroll and you can do it sit­ting on a log. The idea is to engage in the nat­ur­al world with all of your sens­es. Lis­ten to the sounds of the for­est, feel the moss, smell the duff, watch sun­light glint off shiny drops of tree sap. If you have been tak­ing yoga class­es (Tues­day morn­ings at the Mullis Cen­ter) try a few yoga stretch­es and some deep breath­ing. Breathe in organ­ic com­pounds called phy­ton­cides. These com­pounds pro­tect trees from par­a­sites and dis­ease and will do the same for you.

What is new about for­est bathing is the research. Accord­ing to for­est bathing guide, Moshe Sher­man, the analy­sis of 143 research stud­ies shows that there are many heal­ing ben­e­fits.  “One 20-minute ses­sion of for­est bathing led to an increase in a type of white blood cell called NK cells, or nat­ur­al killer cells — cells that pro­tect humans from virus­es and even from tumor for­ma­tions” Plus spend­ing time in the woods reduces blood pres­sure, boosts the immune sys­tem, reduces stress, improves mood, aids men­tal focus and improves sleep. Next time you feel stress creep­ing into your life try step­ping into the woods for a refresh­ing for­est bath.

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