Welcome to the second article of the Nature and Nurture series! In the first article, I talked about the benefits of getting outside and nurturing ourselves in nature. Over the next few weeks and months, I'll be sharing more with you about the science behind the incredible gift of nature and the healing influence it has on our bodies and minds. Today we're going to explore more about forest bathing: what it is, where it comes from, and what the research says about its benefits.
Simply put, forest bathing is the act of spending time connecting with nature to the benefit of our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental wellbeing.
How Can It Benefit Us?
Physical Health Benefits
We have been embroiled in not just a pandemic, but also a chronic illness and mental health epidemic. Forest bathing could provide exactly what we need to balance our immune systems and manage our mental health.
Whenever I’m feeling a little under the weather, I like to visit my nearest patch of nature and mindfully meander for a while, taking a deep breath with every slow step. I always come home feeling at least a little bit better. This might be because trees and plants release powerful molecules called phytoncides into the atmosphere around them to protect themselves from germs and parasites. As well as limonene, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, trees also release an antioxidant metabolism booster called camphene, and the anti-inflammatory and analgesic beta-myrcene. When humans inhale these molecules, they boost the level of Natural Killer (NK) cells in our blood, which are then used by our bodies to fight infections and diseases.
In addition to the phytoncides released by trees, soil itself contains bacteria such as Mycobacterium vaccae. M. vaccae can be inhaled by us and even absorbed through the skin, and offers a host of health boosting benefits. These bacteria are also responsible for the wonderful smell of rain — otherwise known as petrichor — that’s present in the atmosphere after a rain shower. Research suggests that humans absolutely love this smell because for our ancestors it signified fertile soil, and therefore sustenance.
Mental Health Benefits
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
― Lao Tzu
In day-to-day life, we overuse the parts of our brain that deal with logic and decision-making. Our lives contain many distractions, and those two things combined can make us feel overwhelmed. When we are in woodland, our brains change―all five of our senses relax as we take in the vibrancy of nature. When we are absorbed in greenery, our overstimulated minds can take a break. Research has proven that spending time in green spaces lowers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and significantly increases parasympathetic nervous activity whilst reducing sympathetic nervous activity, all of which leaves us feeling soothed by...well, the leaves.
Away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, it becomes easier to disconnect from our monkey minds. Personally, I never feel calmer than when I’m exploring a verdant landscape, mobile phone on silent, and fingertips stained with freshly foraged blackberries.
How Can We Bring More of These Benefits Into Our Lives?
“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
― John Muir, American naturalist and “Father of the National Parks”
So, now we know all about the health benefits of forest bathing, how can we bring a bit more of that forest loveliness into our lives on a regular basis?
Urban greenspaces often contain a tree or two, and a stroll through our local park often finds us passing underneath a tree canopy. By stopping and taking a moment to bathe the senses, we can give our health a boost.
If we are lucky enough to care for a garden, getting our hands dirty as we tend to it reaps the rewards of both being surrounded by plants and being in touch with the wonderful soil bacteria described above.
Although forest bathing is most beneficial outside, we can bring some of the effects closer to us by using a blend of pure essential oils such as pine and cedarwood, which contain the phytoncides released from trees, in our homes. We can diffuse these oils using an oil burner, a steam diffuser, or a room mist.
To further enhance the benefits, we can decorate our indoor spaces with images of forests, and nurture houseplants. Bonsai trees in particular release phytoncides into the air, and also provide an excellent outlet for a spot of mindful pruning.
There are hundreds of ways that we can connect with nature: the most important thing is that we do. By connecting with nature we can not only nurture our bodies and minds, but we can also start to recognise how valuable the health of our planet is to us. If forest bathing has piqued your interest and you would like to know more or attend a workshop, please contact us below...