Shinrin-yoku literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Of course, people have been strolling, hiking and walking through wooded areas for as long as humans and forests have been around. In the 1980s, in response to the stress of modern life, the science-based practice of Shinrin-yoku was born in Japan. Since then it has become one of the cornerstones of preventive health care in that country.
A Walk in the Woods
About three years ago, my husband and I spent one month in an isolated area of Northern Ontario, Canada. It was so quiet there, I remember that I could hear the flapping of an owl’s wings as it flew overhead. Then we returned to the hustle-bustle of busy Atlanta, where we lived at the time. What a difference! Both of us pined for the peace and quiet of those woods. In fact, the experience was so profound that it prompted us to eventually leave the city and move to a heavily-wooded community in Northern Georgia instead.
As we settled in our new home, I had a feeling that being away from the city and amongst the trees, deer, birds and lush vegetation of our new community was very healing for both of us. What I did not know at the time, however, was that there is actually a hefty body of scientific research, mostly coming out of Japan and Korea, which provides concrete evidence as to the healing effects of being under a forest canopy.
Research Supports the Healing Effects of Shinrin-yoku
Of all the literature that has been generated on the subject over the last thirty-plus years, a 2010 review of 24 field experiments compiled in part by Chiba University in Japan and the Japanese Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (and published in the Journal of Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine) is among the most comprehensive. Here is just a partial list of the Japanese conclusions about the benefits of “forest bathing”:
- It dramatically lowers concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol;
- It lowers pulse rate and blood pressure;
- It lowers sympathetic nerve activity, responsible for the “fight or flight” response;
- It causes an increase in parasympathetic nerve activity. The parasympathetic part of your nervous system helps to calm your body, improve digestion,boost immune function, and initiate healing;
- It can help promote healthy sleep, ease anxiety and reduce pain, according to many studies.
Interestingly, this review and other research have found that one of the most powerful healing characteristics of forests has to do with phytoncides, the aromatic essential oils that are emitted en masse from trees in densely wooded areas. Like many other kinds of organic compounds produced by a variety of plants, phytoncides can have a powerful effect on the immune system. In particular, they can:
- Enhance Natural Kill Cell activity, according to a study done on wood-based essential oils by researchers at Nippon Medical School. A follow-up study by the same set of researchers found that enhanced NK cell activity was still evident more than seven days after exposure to a wooded area;
- Have the ability to ward off pathogens such as harmful fungus, bacteria and insects, according to Dr. Boris P. Tokin, who coined the phytoncide term in 1937;
- Help produce anti-cancer proteins and enhance the activity of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell found in the lymph nodes).
Human Beings are Meant to Connect with Nature
Have you ever noticed how even in big cities, local parks are often chock full of people? Grassy, wooden and nature-filled areas as well as beaches, lakes and rivers are places where people tend to naturally flock.
I believe that we as humans know intuitively that connecting with nature is good for our health. Essential #3 of the “7 Essentials System ™” is about balancing your energy for healthy breasts and overall vibrant health. A big part of this is about reducing stress and taking time for reflection. Connecting with nature in some way every day can provide the perfect opportunity to do this.
Make it a point to take a break from your daily routine and pull yourself away from your computer for at least a few minutes daily. Take a stroll down a nature path or, at the very least, put your feet on that grassy patch outside your office for five minutes. If weather or other circumstances prevent you from going outside, you can still harness the power of your mind to use nature for preventative health. Some studies have suggested that merely looking at photographs of forests and other nature scenes can have some of the same effects as the “real thing.”
Dr. Veronique Desaulniers (“Dr. V”) is a best-selling author and founder of breastcancerconqueror.com. She specializes in Chiropractic, Bio-Energetics, Meridian Stress Analysis, Homeopathy and Digital Thermography. After 30 years in active practice, she decided to “retire” and devote her time to sharing her personal, non-toxic Breast Cancer healing journey with others. Her years of experience and research have culminated in “The 7 Essentials™ “, a step-by-step coaching program that unravels the mystery of healing the body. Her website and personal healing journey have touched the lives of thousands of women around the globe.
 Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficient Disorder