Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Forest bathing

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.

Photo: Jupiterimages

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.


  1. '...physically depleted but spiritually overflowing.' Yes. This is it, exactly. Nature. Nature and physical exertion. A friend posted a snippet of an article that you might find interesting, 8. She's an old school hippie, so it may sound a little woo woo, but look up something called 'earthing'. Basically, walking around barefoot on the soil is good for you. Ha!

    I'm so glad that you still get out there and hike and restore your self in Nature. And, I think that slowing down is better! It's a completely different journey that way.

    One more thing. Check out (online) One Square Inch of Silence. It's a recording taken in the Olympic National Forest. It's not silent, per se, but it contains no human noise. It's bird song and water sounds, primarily. It is so calming. Sometimes I play it at work and just listen as it loops over and over.

    I'm glad you are ok.

  2. I am barefoot almost all the time - Martha is always complaining about my dirty feet. And I never wear gloves when I garden. I can't imagine not having my hands and feet in soil. So I guess I have been "earthing" for quite awhile, old school hippie that I am : )

    I once did a blog post on the One Square Inch of Silence. It is so sad that we are losing these quiet spaces. In fact, I just read that we have lost another 10% of wilderness in the last few decades. Soon nature will only be viewable through virtual reality googles. It truly breaks my heart.

  3. I like the concept of forest bathing. That sounds about right. Being in the woods never fails to calm me and set me right again. Lovely post.

  4. I don't necessarily wish I were a different person, but I do sometimes wish to have had accces to and grown up with nature in a big, primal way.

    I'm glad you were able to get away and bathe in the forest.