Shinrin-Yoku and Nature Therapy
Research conducted in transcontinental Japan and China points to a plethora of positive health benefits for the human physiological and psychological systems associated with the practice of Shinrin-Yoku (SY), also known as Forest Bathing (FB). SY is a traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. During the 1980s, SY surfaced in Japan as a pivotal part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. The reported research findings associated with the healing components of SY specifically hones in on the therapeutic effects on: (1) the immune system function (increase in natural killer cells/cancer prevention); (2) cardiovascular system (hypertension/coronary artery disease); (3) the respiratory system (allergies and respiratory disease); (4) depression and anxiety (mood disorders and stress); (5) mental relaxation (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and; (6) human feelings of “awe” (increase in gratitude and selflessness). Moreover, various contemporary hypotheses, such as: Kaplan’s Attention Restorative Hypothesis; Ulrich’s Stress Reduction Hypothesis; and Kellert and Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis provide support and a lens for the practice of SY and other forms of nature engagement.
Furthermore, SY may be considered a form of Nature Therapy (NT). Song, Ikei and Miyazaki’s present day model: Concept of Nature Therapy (CNT) clearly defines NT as “a set of practices aimed at achieving ‘preventive medical effects’ through exposure to natural stimuli that render a state of physiological relaxation and boost the weakened immune functions to prevent diseases”. The conceptual model of NT starts with a “stressed state” at the top and then points to the “restorative effects” of nature (forests, flowers, etc.) where there is a hypothesis of improvement in “physiological relaxation” and “immune function recovery” responses (individual differences noted). These responses to nature are then incorporated in the Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) model and are illustrated by an arrow leading to the “preventive medical effect.” This clear model supports Song, Ikei and Miyazaki’s review of some medically proven outcomes. Kaplan and Kaplan associated with exposure to naturally occurring stimuli (all 5 senses) that has a direct effect on increasing the parasympathetic nervous system and a heightened awareness that leads to a state of relaxation.
Shinrin-Yoku, translated into English as ‘forest bathing’, means taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk. It is a therapy that was developed in Japan during the 1980s, becoming a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have conducted studies on the health benefits of spending time amongst the trees, demonstrating that forest bathing positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system.
Every study conducted so far has demonstrated reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness amongst the participants. In fact after just 15 minutes of forest bathing blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced and concentration and mental clarity improve.
There are now 44 accredited Shinrin-Yoku forests in Japan, with the research conducted helping to establish Shinrin-Yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.
If you think it all sounds too good to be true, why not give it a go yourself? You don’t have a forest or woodland nearby; you can also practice Shinrin-Yoku in the park. Just follow this short guide…
Step 1 – leave behind your phone, camera or any other distractions, so that you can be fully present in the experience.
Step 2 – Leave behind your goals and expectations. Wander aimlessly, allowing your body to take you wherever it wants.
Step 3 – Pause from time to time, to look more closely at a leaf or notice the sensation of the path beneath your feet.
Step 4 – Find a comfy spot to take a seat and listen to the sounds around you. See how the behaviour of the birds and other animals changes when they become used to your presence.
Step 5 – If you go with others, make an agreement to resist talking until the end of the walk, when you could gather to share your experiences.