Scientists in Japan have reported on the stress-relieving benefits of something called shinrin-yoku. They call it forest bathing. It doesn't involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic effect. Apparently when you spend a few hours in a forest or camp by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost the immune system humans.
I never went into the woods to wash away stress, as I really never had much stress in my life. I go into the woods to fill my soul which seems to get easily depleted by trauma anxiety and noise. So much noise.
When I was younger I made backpacking a physical challenge - how fast, how far, how high - could I push my body. It seemed the only way to conquer the anxiety. Now I am much older and much calmer and my body is long past wanting to be challenged. My mind however still needs to deeply disengage and my soul longs to be replenished.
Last week I went backpacking for a few days and had my mind blown by the forest. Travelling at a much slower pace, and stopping often to rest, I found that there was so much more to experience in the woods when you slow down. Magical. Quiet. Alive. I was tremendously overwhelmed by the beauty of trees, almost in peak fall foliage color already. The smell of the earth filled my lungs and watching the woodlands animals scurrying to prepare for winter just made me smile. I enjoyed them for quite a while each time before moving on.
We eventually made our way to a mountain top with views that soothed my eyes that I didn’t even realize were sore from too much screen time and near sighted focusing. It literally brought tears to my eyes to experience such a holy place.
|Photo: Dave Heilman II|
(Sorry, I don't carry a camera but this is pretty close to the view)
I returned home physically depleted but spiritually overflowing.
Three days in the woods released this past month's anxiety and sent my soul soaring.
Nature can do that.
It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. —Robert Louis Stevenson
Forest bathing. I highly recommend it.