FOREST BATHING

If you have been out on a nature walk through woods, you will remember the relaxed and happy feeling for a long time. Forest bathing, or forest therapy, is a loose translation of the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means forest, and yoku (equivalently abiru) means to bathe or bask in. In this case, one basks in the pleasant and healing atmosphere of a forest. The Japanese have known this for decades, centuries, or longer. It is only recently that it has become popular as scientific research has proven its effectiveness. 

Here are two of the many news articles on forest bathing.

https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20190611/forest-bathing-nature-time-hot-health-advice

https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/

In the second article, a link to “phytoncides” explains:  

Some research suggests that when people are in nature, they inhale aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides. These can increase their number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease. https://time.com/4718318/spring-exercise-workout-outside/

Here is a long survey paper by the author of one of the first books on forest bathing, a medical doctor at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School:  

Qing Li, “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function”.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/. Dr. Li’s popular book is Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, April 2018.

Quite a few books have appeared by other authors and they are easily found by a search on a book site. Also published in 2018 is the book by Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki:

Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki in June 2018.

Prof. Miyazaki was among the first to study forest therapy. He is professor at Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences. An online interview with Prof. Miyazaki tells how he started. https://www.nippon.com/en/people/e00140/miyazaki-yoshifumi-explores-the-healing-power-of-the-forest.html.

INTERVIEWER   What is shinrin-yoku?

MIYAZAKI YOSHIFUMI   It’s an activity where people relax by synchronizing, or harmonizing, with the forest. The term was coined in 1982 by Akiyama Tomohide, director of the Japan Forestry Agency. The agency wanted people to visit Japan’s forests and relax. It was a way to increase the value of these lands.

INTERVIEWER   How did scientific research into shinrin-yoku begin?

MIYAZAKI   I led the first experiments to study the effects of the practice on the island of Yakushima in 1990. At the time, I was 35 and had no research funds of my own, but I was approached by NHK, which funded the experiments as part of a TV program. A new technique had just been developed to detect the levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, in saliva. We used that to measure stress and relaxation. “Forest therapy,” meanwhile, refers to shinrin-yoku backed by scientific data, and is a term that I coined myself in 2003.

These are some of Dr. Miyazaki’s earlier books in Japanese.

自然セラピーの科学 Shizen Serapii no Kagaku (Nature Therapy Science), October 2016

森林医学 Shinrin Igaku (Forest Medicine), June 2006, coauthor

森林浴はなぜ体にいいか Shinrin yoku wa naze karada ni iika (Why is Forest Bathing Good for the Body?), July 2003

Let us close with Dr. Miyazaki’s words:

MIYAZAKI   In Japan, various shinrin-yoku programs have been developed. These involve various activities: basic ones, such as slow walking and sitting, but also deep breathing, Nordic walking, embracing trees, yoga, meditation, stretching, and even picnics. There are also possibilities like night-sky viewing, cloud watching, playing in water, waterfall viewing, and enjoying music concerts in the forest.

Photos by Okunomichi

The idea of forest bathing is not far from the practice of nature-based Shinto. Okunomichi reported on an interview with Shinto priest and professor Minoru Sonoda. Dr. Sonoda has promoted sacred forests which are often found behind Shinto shrines as well as in wilderness areas. His description helps to explain why forest bathing reduces stress. It is no wonder that the recent forest bathing activity emerged out of the forests of Japan.

Dr. Sonoda is proactive in the chinju no mori sacred forest movement. What is chinju no moriMori means forest. Chinju is written 鎮守. The first character 鎮 is read as shizumeru, to calm the spirit; the second character 守 is mamoru which means to protect. Thus, we may say chinju no mori is a forest whose tranquility is protected. In other words, let’s protect the peace and serenity provided us by forests.

Revised 2019.09.30

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