The Healing Powers of Forest Bathing

A few months ago I had a strong feeling to write a course on mindfulness, which I resisted. I am a big fan of mindfulness and I practised it occasionally but I wasn’t someone who made it part of my daily life. I kind of liked the buzz I got from multi-tasking and juggling numerous projects at once and I didn’t want to give that up. But the more I resisted the stronger the urge became until I decided to follow my inner voice and it wasn’t long before I was hooked.

Whenever I write a course I do every exercise and make what I’m writing about a part of my daily life, so I can be sure it works before recommending it to others, and I must admit I didn’t expect to find mindfulness such a fascinating subject. Before long I started noticing a change within myself as I implemented mindfulness practices into my daily life.

At the end of June, when I was half way through writing the course,  I went on a month long trip to Europe and while In England I did some research on the topic and discovered for myself the power of forest bathing. Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is the practice of walking mindfully amongst trees and there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the physical and emotional benefits of this.

When we walk amongst trees we are in an oxygen rich environment. We are exposed to sights and sounds that generally relax us but even more important is our exposure to phytoncides (wood essential oils). Phytoncides significantly increase our NK cells which are known to fight cancer[1]. In a nutshell walking in the forest has some major health benefits the full extent of which is, as yet, unknown.

What does appear to be the case is that regular forest bathing can have long lasting effects. Weekly sessions of around 20 minutes or more are recommended. If you don’t have an area of bush that is easily accessible go to your local park, where there are trees. The benefits gained from just one session last for a week.

Forest therapy[2] has been proven to:

  • Improve the immune system
  • Increase relaxation due to increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Reduce blood pressure if it is high and raise it if is low
  • Increase feelings of wellbeing
  • Decrease cardiovascular illnesses[3]
  • Help with respiratory system issues such as allergies[4]

In the US particularly, some doctors are recommending this practice to their patients. Dr Nooshin Razani[5], a paediatric infectious diseases doctor at Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland California, conducts a program call Shine, where once a month she leads of group of up to 50 people through a lush forest of redwoods. Her patients range in age from 8 months to 18. Dr Razani published findings that park visits, no matter where they were, or whether they were led by a guide or not led to a decrease in stress.

Suzanne Simard, a researcher at the University of British Columbia also quotes a hospital in Atlanta that formally offers forest therapy to patients with cancer. Another doctor in Iowa, Dr Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmill, an obstetrician-gynaecologist became a certified forest guide and leads groups.

Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki[6], who is a researcher and director of Chiba University’s Centre for Environment, Health and Field Sciences and author of Shinrin-yoku, says that our genes cannot change in just a few hundred years and the loss of trees and our natural environment is a major contributor to modern day stress.

Dr Miyazaki also says that stress today is not just triggered by dangerous situations but emotional ones as well such as a crowded commuter train, a driver who takes the parking space you wanted, or an employer who is unhappy with your work. We have more triggers for the stress response today than ever before and when our bodies remain in a state of hyper-arousal for too long illness occurs.

Mindfulness is the way to change our state and ultimately our entire lives, whether we practice being mindful as a daily exercise, or we make walking amongst trees something we do on a regular basis.

I am now offering online courses in Certificate in Mindfulness and a Certified Mindfulness Teacher certification.

 

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/

[2] Shinrin-yoku, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Octopus Publishing, Great Britain, 2018

[3] Your guide to forest bathing, M Amos Clifford, Conari Press, Massachussets, 2018

[4] Your guide to forest bathing, M Amos Clifford, Conari Press, Massachussets, 2018

[5] https://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other

[6] Shinrin-yoku, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Octopus Publishing, Great Britain, 2018

Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

As we go about our daily lives it’s so easy to let the things that bring joy into our lives slip. If we wait for circumstances to bring us joy we may have to wait a long time, but if we establish the habit of being mindful and doing something every day that brings us pleasure it becomes so much easier to experience joy, and attain our most important goals.

It has been discovered people who suffer from depression have an inability to see things as new, fresh or exciting and this is what makes them depressed. In chronically depressed people the mind creates links between sad moods and feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy. For instance, a person experiencing depression could interpret the fact that they didn’t get a job to mean they are hopeless as a person, or a failure, that they will never get what they want.

Depression has been largely treated by drugs which puts serotonin back into the body, or by cognitive behavior therapy. Both of these work, but when a person goes off drugs they often experience a relapse. There is a third way that can change the way we feel, which has been proven to bring about long-lasting change, and that is by being mindful.

Mindfulness

Scientists have found that the brain can only create new pathways when we pay attention to what we are doing. If you go around saying affirmations by rote without really thinking about what they mean, they won’t have much impact upon your life. Say affirmations consciously, focusing on positive emotions and follow that up with action that makes you feel good and you will get an entirely different outcome. Our brain is constantly remaking itself in response to outside stimuli, our environment and our experiences.

Neuroplasticity occurs when the mind is in a state of focus and attention, this is commonly known as being mindful.

Being mindful, as well as inducing a state of calm, means we can change our emotional response to events that once upset us, and we can change beliefs which prevent us from moving forward.

Mindfulness is the practice of observing yourself. It is observing the way we think and feel without judging.

Drugs for depression work from the bottom up. Cognitive behavior therapy works from the top down. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy keeps the depression circuit from being completed.

No one is happy all of the time, but when we are mindful we notice our emotions and that allows us to take control of them rather than having our emotions run our lives. Attention training changes lives. Rather than just making a decision to be more mindful, which you’ll probably forget within a day, link being mindful to any activity that stresses or challenges you. Or set a specific time each day and put a reminder into your phone to stop and focus on what is happening in the world around you.

By training yourself to be mindful you start to recognise those things that bring you joy. When you add more things that bring you joy into your daily life you feel happier. When you feel happy you have a positive influence on the world around you.