Treehuggers—we’ve all seen them. Perhaps at certain points we’ve been them. But there are more reasons to hug trees than a whimsical love of Mother Earth. It turns out, we should all be hugging trees—or at least spending a heck of a lot more time with them. In fact, we should be bathing in them.
Yes, bathing. Forest bathing is a popular technique originating from Japan which utilizes the forest for its calming and invigorating effects. Technically a type of focused hiking, forest bathing is extremely effective at squelching stress levels. In fact, it is more like tree-focused meditation than anything else. As you walk through the tranquil forest, by focusing on the towering trees, the sound of crispy leaves underfoot, and the soft chirps and tweets that float through your ears on a breeze, you calm your busy mind by lower your blood pressure and stress hormones on a chemical level. Certain studies also explain that the scents in forests contain phytoncides, which is an antibacterial and anti-fungal chemical emitted by plants that directly increases white blood cell activity. In Japan, this has been shown to be a powerful strengthener of the immune system, offering an incredible boost to immune function.
According to a Japanese study, after a 3 day/2 night trip to a forest area, participants exhibited an increase in natural killer cells (a powerful type of white blood cell that fights tumors and viruses) not only during and after the trip, but for an incredible 30 days after. In contrast, a trip as a tourist to an urban area offer no such benefit. This means a single trip to the wilderness each month is enough to offer impressive, long-lasting mind-body benefits.
Not only is forest bathing a stellar form of meditation, but gentle walking increases your heart rate, gets your blood and lymph flowing, and allows your circadian rhythms to realign. It also increases energy, improves sleep quality, and improves mood and focus in daily life.
Looking for ways to get outside? Here are some ideas:
-take a stroll in your local park daily, no matter how short
-go camping overnight for one weekend each month
-plan vacations around the hikes and natural wonders you’d like to visit
-take up sketching as a hobby and spend time sketching in the woods
-bring kids on a seasonal forest scavenger hunt
-take your lunch break outside in some sort of green area
Simply being in nature for an extended period of time provides innumerable benefits to your body. Next time you are looking for a way to unwind, shut down your computer and take a stroll—or a bath— in your local park instead.