Island Senior: Forest Bathing, an Antidote to Stress
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.