Made for a Garden: The Benefits of Forest Bathing
When I was seven years old my mom and I moved to Teresita street . It was this sleepy, tree lined street. It was quiet even though it was full of families with elementary school aged children (aka noise machines). And it was magical. The two curly haired girls next door had this canyon of mysteries that begged to be explored. There was talk of coyotes and snakes, but all I could see were endless rows of stone plants, grass, and flowers. Now, as much as I wanted to explore the canyon, my fear of all things furry or scaly with fangs kept me from going too far past the patio. Fortunately, quiet streets are always full of colorful characters and fun places to play.
Down the street a wonderful little lady with silver hair, a piano, and an ever full candy dish would let us scamper through her backyard garden. Now, this wasn't some little rinky dink patch on the side of her house. This thing was massive, with a whimsical beauty that delighted our senses. It was enclosed by a vine wrapped fence that stretched overhead creating this dreamy canopy of leaves. I felt most at home and most free in that garden. It was like I had finally found the place I was made for, the place WE were made for.
Eventually we moved, but I always managed to find a garden, or a park, or at the very least a daggon weed in a crack on the sidewalk. I need plants, we all do. Nature nourishes us. Beauty heals. Innately, we all know that. Being in nature soothes our minds and bodies.
A couple of weeks after losing my nana I started taking an aromatherapy certification course. I loved every minute of it. Studying aromatherapy brought me back to plants and helped me mourn her loss. Now, studying herbalism, I'm bathing my mind with as much information about plants and wellness as I can find. One really cool topic I came across was forest bathing. It's one of the most popular ways to manage stress in Japan.
What is Forest Bathing?
There's very little I won't try in the name of health and wellness, but I was convinced I found my limit with this one. I assumed forest bathing involved marinating naked in a lake surrounded by trees, praying no living creature came along. That didn't seem relaxing. Thank God I was wrong!
Forest bathing is simply spending time walking, mindfully, and unhurriedly in nature, preferably in (surprise, surprise) a forest. The combo of the natural aromas, fresh air, and beautiful scenery relaxes and rejuvenates us.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing was "created" or really rediscovered as a way to manage stress in the 80s in Japan. The benefits extend well beyond feeling more relaxed. A more relaxed state is a healing state. When our bodies and minds are at ease, they have a chance to heal.
Forest Bathing has been proven to:
- Lower blood pressure
- Help balance blood sugar
- Improve how our immune system works
- Create a sense of vitality and vigor, while reducing feelings of depression and stress
- Improve mood
- Reduce inflammation
- Take some of the sting out of muscle pain
Does Forest Bathing Enhance Fertility?
I couldn't find any research linking forest bathing to optimized fertility, but we do know stress management is an important part of preconception care, fertility, and general wellness. There are some studies that show mental stress can negatively affect male fertility (here, here, and here). Since forest bathing kicks butt as a stress management technique, I'm willing to bet it has a positive effect on fertility; we just haven't studied it yet.
How to Add More Nature to Your Life
As much as I would love to spend time among the trees regularly, that's not an option most days. Really, it's not an option most months. If you're fortunate enough to spend time in a forest, by all means, do it. But if you're like me, living in the concrete jungle, here are some ways you can reap some of the same benefits of our forest frolicking friends:
- Watch nature videos and documentaries. Videos have some of the same relaxing effects as actually being in the environment.
- Go to a park or garden and enjoy a leisurely stroll.
- Decorate your house with plants.
- Try growing an herb garden. You don't need a lot of space and can choose whichever herb(s) you like to cook, make tea, or decorate with.
- Spend time at a farmer's market touching, smelling, tasting, and looking at all the produce and flowers.
- Listen to soundscape style music throughout the day.
- Draw or paint a scenic landscape. Don't worry about what it looks like, just enjoy the process of creating and imagining natural elements.
- Diffuse pine essential oils.
- Use your imagination to envision yourself in a forest or your favorite natural surroundings.
- Play or cuddle with your pet.
- Notice the weeds and plants you pass on the sidewalk or the side of the road.
- Exercise outside if the weather permits.
For more information on forest bathing head over to Shinrin Yoku.
What are some ways you enjoy nature on a regular basis?