Forest bathing is a great way to help your body heal and restore if you are struggling with exhaustion, you are anxious, stressed or in emotional turmoil. Only a few minutes a day are needed and taking time to be in and with nature is one of my top health tips.
Many traditional teachers of wisdom know it has a strong healing power and I want to share with you how you can benefit from this extraordinary force. Modern scientific research is proving what has been known down the generations. As humans we have an inbuilt attraction to nature, intuitively knowing the relaxing, soothing and pleasurable effects of being in or viewing forests, plants, flowers, and green spaces.
Green natural environments can have a very restorative effect on our body, mind and soul. The term ‘forest bathing’ originated in Japan and there is now a substantial amount of research showing the benefits from immersing yourself in nature mindfully using all of your senses. Researchers have found benefits for: the immune system with an increase in natural killer cells that help control infection; the cardiovascular system with reductions blood pressure; hormone balance with improved blood sugar regulation; with depression and anxiety as well as mood problems and stress management; and for general health through relaxation and feelings of gratitude.
If you have experienced with burnout or chronic fatigue you are likely to have some kind of metabolic imbalance going on in your body with systems such as your immune system , digestion, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and inflammation all potentially being affected (check out this blog post to learn more about burnout, stress, inflammation and your immune system). Forest bathing therefore seems to offer a lot of potential benefits and a way of healing the mind, body and soul that is cheap and relatively easy to do.
So how do our senses help immerse us in a forest setting and provide these amazing health benefits?
Well studies have shown that even just looking at nature through a window or being shown pictures of nature can have a positive impact on our health and well-being. The more exposure you have to green spaces the more there are benefits to mental health and well-being. Scientists have found that the blue and green colours in nature are help reduce anxiety and dampen our stress response compared to grey or urban colour schemes. Nature provides a wealth of curves, patterns, changes in the density and visual variety and as humans we prefer these natural patterns which might explain why we often seem happier in these environments. Natural sounds such as wind, water, birds, and animals have been shown to help us feel restored, rested and calm. Just sitting in a park or under a tree can give you these benefits.
Smell can also have a strong effect on our mood, behaviour, and cognition. There are many pleasant smells in nature such as pine trees, flowers, damp earth, and the seashore and plant fragrances from flowering plants can evoke positive mental effects including calmness, alertness, reduced agitation, decreased anxiety and improved self-esteem. Scents from trees have been shown to positively impact our immune function, help settle our nervous system and decrease our heart rate. Take a moment when you are out in nature to see what scents might be around you and stop and smell a flower, the new leaves of trees or the salty seaweed scent on the seashore.
Taste is a unique sense because it stimulates both our brains reward and revulsion systems, resulting in both pleasure and sometimes disgust. Sweet foods stimulate our brains reward system and as hunters and gatherers we would only have found sweet food when fruit ripened at the end of summer or from a wild beehive. Bitter foods contain phytochemicals that make them distasteful to insects and help protect them from being eaten. But our bodies react well to a small amount of bitter foods and they stimulate our digestive juices including saliva and stomach acid. This is why bitters are used as a herbal tonic to aid digestion. In a forest it can be delightful to eat a ripe raspberry or wild strawberry at the end of the summer and this time of year you can try wild garlic, wood sorrel, dandelion leaves and daisies if you are confident in identifying them.
We can experience the sense of touch by feeling the bark of trees, walking barefoot on the earth or resting our body on a grassy lawn. Studies have found that it may help decrease blood pressure and increase feelings of calm. Slip your shoes off and experience how it feels to connect with the earth, feel the softness of a feather or put your hands and face on the trunk of an oak tree.
So have I convinced you yet to find a green spot where you can spend a few minutes each day. If you can’t get to a forest you could sit in a garden or a park, visit the beach or walk by a canal. Any amount of time being in nature is likely to help but regularly spending 30minutes or longer can make the most difference. Try to be mindful of your body and your breathing, take a few deep breaths where your tummy moves outwards. Feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, consciously plant your feet on the path or forest floor, look closely at the patterns on leaves, breathe in the scent of the forest, close your eyes and listen to the birds.
If you give yourself the time you will find your mind begin to settle and your body begin to relax. This is a powerful way of helping your body to reset its nervous system from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic. This is the switch from fight or flight, which is our high alert stress response, to rest and digest which is when you feel safe and calm and which is where we need to be to allow us to heal and restore our health.
If you are worried that you might be headed towards burnout then please download my free energy road map which gives you everything you need to start to get your energy back again.