The beginner’s guide to immune-boosting ‘forest bathing’



Bathing…in a forest? It's something I do at least once a week for my physical & emotional wellbeing. Whilst no water is involved, your senses are certainly bathed...in nature.


The ancient practice was born in Japan to combat stress and even death from overworking... and turns out us Aussies need a bit of this ancient wisdom too! The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and connect with nature by engaging your senses.

According to The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy that originated in response to the high-stress environment of 1980s corporate Japan, “death by overwork” or karoshi caused widespread ill-health, that at times resulted in death. The Japanese government responded by funding extensive studies and found that a simple stroll in the forest held real & measurable health benefits. They concluded that “forest bathing” had powerful immune-boosting benefits that increased our cancer-fighting natural killer cells! From relieving stress, dropping stress hormones like cortisol, alleviating anxiety & depression and radically decreasing blood pressure, the research soon spread worldwide.


They named the therapy forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku. By simply being in nature, you slow down your response to stress and enter the sympathetic ‘rest & digest’ nervous system which enables systemic healing throughout your body.


 

Ok…so how can you do this without a forest?

Whilst Japanese studies focused on the remedial effects of time spent unwinding in forests, you can replicate this in any natural environment – whether it be a rainforest, the bush, desert or a simple coastal walk. As long as your senses and mind are engaged through nature you’re set!


Obviously the further detached you are from technology and civilisation the better, so picking natural locations away from main roads and switching your phone to “Do not Disturb” are recommended.


The old-fashioned advice of “get some fresh air” certainly rings true for Aussies, as another study proved that going on bush-walks radically increased immunity and our natural killer cells (that fight infection and disease), with the benefits still noticeable 30 days later!


Miyazaki (the author of the study) pointed out that humans lived in nature for several million years –

We were made to fit a natural environment, so we feel stress in an urban area.
When we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to the way they should be.

- Miyazaki, 2020.



Forest bathing is all about simply slowing down to connect with yourself & nature.


 

HOW TO FOREST BATHE:

  1. Find a suitable place that you find pleasant and enjoyable to walk or sit in.

  2. When you arrive – notice your surroundings, notice your body and tune into your senses. Actively leave past or future concerns behind and be present in the moment to awaken your senses.

  3. Walk slowly whilst noticing the motion of your environment. If you start to feel rushed or distracted – come to a halt.

  4. Notice & appreciate all the little things around you, the flowers, plants, movement or insects and hold gratitude for them. Let the natural world unwind your body and flow through you.

  5. Sit down – at any point you feel is right, find a comfortable place to sit and stay still for up to 20 minutes. This will cultivate awareness and tranquillity within you and allow your brain to process what your senses have picked up.

  6. Be grateful – quietly acknowledge all that nature has given you.


With all the compelling evidence, governments are catching on. In 2006, a government-affiliate organisation began designating certain forests “Forest Therapy bases”, and maintaining them. Some forests offer guided walks with free medical check-ups. Even companies are beginning to include forest therapy in their employee health-care programs, and Li Qing believes that in a few years, a forest therapy program will be developed to help patients with compromised immune systems.


If someone offered you free therapy, with no side effects, that provided benefits for up to 30 days later – you’d jump at the opportunity, right? So, set aside some time this weekend to go get lost in nature.



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Written by Nutritionist student and health enthusiast, Yasmin Jackson.

Published by Femina & Co.

Follow her IG: @knowrish

Follow us: @feminandco

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