1880s or 1980s, Good Ideas Never Get Old:
In our technologically-advanced time, we have a bad-tendency toward disqualifying thoughts & theories that have come before us.
-Especially in the Sciences, old traditions that don’t have a big corporation behind them are looked at as Hokum, Superstition, & Snake-Oil.
But are they really?
Well recently, the scientists of (data) !Crazy Japan! came together and found actual scientific proof for a practice that saw it’s heyday back at the end of the 1800s.
-Getting outside and
groping communing-with nature;
Or what the Japanese now refer to as, “Forest Bathing”…
No, There Are No Actual “Baths” Involved:
And while there are no actual water-based baths involved
The eastern term for the practice is both quite charming and useful.
You see, back in the 1800s in the US and in Europe, an interesting, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style health trend was taking shape:
Getting away from the cities, and going out to a big, rustic, luxurious lodge,
Right in the middle of the pine forest.
The idea was to “Take in the healing-essence of the mountain air”, with a few occasional additions tacked-on.
Back To The Shinto! Mountain Air Makes A Comeback:
The nuttiest of all of these are depicted in the movie, “The Road To Wellville”.
And just like the lunacy of those ideas, the fate of the mountain air’s benefits was the same and had faded since.
But back in the 1980s Japan decided it was going to revive a similar practice from ancient Shinto rites,
Using its many coniferous-forests to get its poor crowded-in, under-spaced, over-worked people out of their little hamster cages and out into nature to see if anything could help them feel better.
Miraculously, it did!
Science Validates Thoreau:
HOKUM! SUPERSTITION! SNAKE-OIL!
Nope, it actually worked.
We are no longer stuck shacking-up at Walden Pond without a clue why, other than Because:Thoreau.
-Because thanks to the increasing pervasiveness of modern health-science, computing power, & micro-labs, budget-motivated Japanese researchers have been able to Measure, Typify, & Quantify most of the benefits;
So now we can say, Because:!SCIENCE!
And here they are:
Forest Bathing’s Benefits:
1) Boosted Immune System functioning,
1a) Increase in the body’s Natural Killer (NK) Cell count
2) Reduced Blood Pressure
3) Lower Pulse-rate
4) Reduced Stress
5) Improved Mood
6) Reduced Anxiety
7) Reduced Depression
8) Increased Empathy
9) Increased ability to Focus
9a) -Even in children with ADHD
10) Increased Creative Problem-Solving ability
11) Accelerated Recovery from Surgery or Illness
12) Increased Energy
13) Improved Sleep
So If There Are No “Baths”, Then What Is It?:
Forest Bathing is usually supervised by a guide trained in the specific Japanese procedure.
It has come to mean a quiet, intermittently-silent, stroll through the forest, with the leader doing a sort-of guided Mindfulness Meditation as you go.
This is especially-useful, as most people being so divorced from nature today might miss everything out there.
The guide will call people’s attention to different natural features, sensations, or perceptions, and occasionally get you to touch or interact with simple items like leaves or trees; even just touching the bark and smelling what it leaves on your hands.
Most short, benign interactions with the forest seem encouraged, and don’t consist of tearing the place apart just for the trip.
It’s also not a speed-hike full of competition, and all electronics should either be left behind or switched-off.
At the end, there is usually some kind of tea while everyone sits & talks about their experience together with the guide.
So If There Are Scientifically-Proven Benefits, How Does It All Work?:
The idea is very similar to The Hygiene Hypothesis.
We’re too clean, and we’re disconnected from nature.
In the words of one author, it’s a “Nature Deficit Disorder”.
In-fact, it’s only for about the past few centuries (less than 1/1000th of human-existence) that anyone has lived away from it.
So, if you not only expose yourself to outdoor dirt on fruits, vegetables & mud-pies with your kids to get healthier gut-microbes,
The Forest Has A Kind Of Micro-Biome, Too:
-What if you also expose yourself to all the different parts of the Forest, that mankind used to actually live-in a relatively short while ago?
-Which is exactly what the Sanatorium sponsors of the 1800s trying to cure Tuberculosis were up to.
And like their patients, today’s equivalents are seeing similar benefits.
The full-scope of actors is unknown, but the airborne-particles & volatile organic aroma-compounds put out mostly by Trees is suspected.
You, Falling On Cedars:
Some of the most-studied compounds are the ones put-out by coniferous trees like Pines, Cypress, & Cedars.
-Funny thing, isn’t it, that Cedar is such an intuitively-attractive scent?
Now we may know why.
So just the way med-school professors will tell students, “Half of what we’re about to teach you is wrong. -We just don’t know which half.”,
Perhaps there are some old ideas that we thought were “wrong” that may actually have some substance, just the way many things science “knew” 100 years-ago, may not actually be true.
Don’t Let The Bad Bugs Bite:
So, if you can’t get out to a certified Forest Bathing club and do things properly,
Maybe you can spray yourself & your clothes down with some deep-woods OFF!, familiarize yourself with all the best anti-tick practices,
And just get yourself out in a little foresty-park with some pre-made shinrin-yoku-style trails, where you-to can immerse yourself in nature and take in its healing airs,
-Just like our instinctively-smart, fancy-mountain-lodging forebears, 200+ years ago!
Check out the details at the Links Below:
Postcard of the House & Lake, by Lake Mohonk Mountain House
• via: Outside
• More Coverage: NPR | Shinrin-Yoku (ie: Forest Bathing)’s website | Forest Therapy Japan | The Tick Key (no affiliation, it just looks great)
• Source Studies: Nature & Forest Therapy