“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” -John Muir
Is spending time in nature a medical necessity?
Viewing nature as mandatory medicine is still largely a foreign concept. However, feeling good doesn’t seem to be enough of a reason to spend time outdoors anymore.
As humans with ever increasing busy lives, it seems we now need scientific evidence to support the necessity of going into nature. It needs to be seen as mandatory as brushing our teeth to encourage us to schedule it in.
With the level of time we are spending enraptured with technology and behind a screen increasing at exponential rates, the need for encouragement to get out into nature is becoming essential.
On average, we are spending more than half of each day on a screen. Yikes!
US adults’ average daily time spent with major media slightly exceeded 12 hours in 2017, according to eMarketer’s latest report, “US Time Spent with Media: eMarketer’s Updated Estimates and Forecast for 2014-2019”.
To me, these are terrifying statistics with deeply unknown (yet predictable) consequences.
Richard Louv, author of the 2008 bestseller Last Child in the Woods—the book that minted the term nature deficit disorder, argues that all of us, especially children, are spending more time indoors, which makes us feel alienated from nature and perhaps more vulnerable to negative moods or reduced attention span.
Does this sound familiar?
What if science finally found a way to explain why being in nature feels so good?
Picnics in the park, meandering through flower gardens or strolling down the beach all seem to do something that leaves us feeling good in a way screen time never does.
Being in the forest is no exception. As the leaves rustle in the breeze overhead and the sunshine glitters through the trees it always leaves me with a sense of calm I can’t explain.
The Japanese set out to unearth the science behind it—it is now scientifically proven to be a therapy so profound Japanese doctors view it as a cornerstone of preventative health care and are prescribing it.
This research has been in the making since the 1980’s and doctors in Japan are currently prescribing walks in the forest under the name “Forest Bathing.”
Forest Bathing, also called “Shinrin-Yoku”, translates as “taking in the forest atmosphere” and was coined by Mr. Tomohide Akiyama in 1982.
This is different than going on a hike or having a picnic in the park. You don’t need a bathing suit. It is not a workout that you can track on your Fitbit.
“Bathing”, when attached to this therapy, is not applied in the literal way the English language uses it. You should not expect to get wet or go for a dip in a body of water. Instead, it is a feeling of allowing yourself to be stripped down and the forest to envelope you the way water does when we bathe.
Being surrounded by nature is a form of meditation that leaves you calmer. It is universally acknowledged that there are positive medical benefits of meditation but for me, the act of true meditation is an elusive skill which forever feels like I’m stuck at the beginner level.
Forest Bathing, in contrast, is something anyone at any age and physical ability can master.
How do You Master Forest Bathing?
Deliberately engage with nature using all five senses. Practice. Repeat.
Look at the trees, watch the leaves sway or the way the sunshines sparkles off a droplet of water.
Get down on your knees and touch the dirt and grass and feel the texture of the bark on the tree.
Breathe in the air with all of the space your lungs allow and try to name the aromas filtering through like you might with a fine wine.
Listen to the wind and the birds; hear the songs of the forest come alive the closer attention you give it.
Open your mouth and taste the air as you breathe in, reveling in its flavor.
Stand still and engage all the magic your senses possess.
Slowly rotate and take in the newness at each turn.
This is forest bathing.
Drenching yourself in the forest and all it offers becoming once again fully connected and in tune with nature.
“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” ― Andy Goldsworthy
Still not convinced?
Japanese studies have scientifically found the following proof that it’s a health necessity.
6 Benefits of Forest Bathing
1—Increased Mental Clarity
While in nature the mind experiences “soft fascination” which gives the brain an ability to rest, restoring the ability to focus with directed attention later.
Being in nature lowers cortisol levels, which directly effects blood pressure effectively decreasing anxiety and stress within the body.
3—Natural Pain Killer
A study of hospital patients determined a room with a window to outside nature or the mere presence of flowering and foliage plants inside a hospital room can lower the need for painkillers and positively effects recovery time.
Natural Killer cell activity measurably increases when in nature. These cells boost your bodies ability to fight infection, boost intracellular anti-cancer proteins in lymphocytes, and enhance overall immune function.
5—Kick Start Your Creativity
Time in nature enhances our mental performance and creativity. One study of a group of Outward Bound participants found they performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after wilderness backpacking.
6—Relaxed State of Being
Relaxation is induced by phytoncides, particles that have been found in uniquely high concentrations in forest air. These substances significantly decreased the percentage of T cells and the concentrations of adrenaline and noradrenaline in urine which decreases stress hormone levels. In addition, the act of Shinrin-Yoku alters cerebral blood flow in a manner that indicated a state of relaxation.
Clear proof of the mental and physiological effects that this therapy offers is now documented.
To be in optimum health, it turns out, yes, it really is mandatory to make time and space to have our dates with nature.
Feel like you don’t have the time? This quote is a favorite and always reminds us to make time for the things we don’t feel we have the time for.
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” – Old Zen Saying
I will look for you sitting among the trees with your senses wide open.
Brief introduction to the science of Forest Therapy.
All you need to know about nature deficit disorder.
This is the healing way of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy, the medicine of simply being in the forest.
Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.
US Adults Now Spend 12 Hours 7 Minutes a Day Consuming Media.
Nature Therapy and Preventive Medicine.
The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being.
Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function.
Your Brain on Nature: Forest Bathing and Reduced Stress
Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress.
The Restorative Environment: Nature and Human Experience
View through a window may influence recovery from surgery.