๐Ÿ‚ Happy Habit #8: Forest Bathing (Shirin Yoku)

• 3 min read

Take 15-30 mins to walk through a forest; soak in the atmosphere with all of your senses.

Research Overview

Spending just 30 minutes walking in nature has been shown to be a powerful way to relax and reduce negative emotions [1]. Compared to spending the same amount of time walking in an urban, subjects showed lower physiological stress levels across several key markers: Salivary cortisol, blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability.

Enjoying time in a forest balances the autonomic nervous system by increasing parasympathetic activity and reducing sympathetic activity.

Core Concept

Over 56% of the world's population live in cities [2], but humans evolved in nature. This means that our nervous systems haven't adapted to the high stress urban environment that most of us find ourselves immersed in. If we don't break the pattern of stress in our fast-paced urban lives, our nervous systems can get overloadedโ€”with pretty negative consequences.

Chronic stress is a primary contributing factor in a range of emotional and physical health issues including depression [3] and systemic inflammation [4] which may be involved in the development of a variety of illnesses.

One of the easiest ways to interrupt the cycle of stress is to spend time in nature, and lots of research supports this [5].

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries realized this and started using the research and coined the term 'Forest Bathing' (or Shirin Yoku) as a way to encourage more visitors to it's national parks. Given Japan has the highest suicide rate in the G7 (with cases rising yearly), finding ways to support emotional health is a national priority and lots of research has gone into studying forest bathing and its effects.

Most of the forest bathing studies involve participants spending 15 minutes walking around a forest and 15 minutes 'soaking in' the atmosphere with their senses through simple observation.

In our hyper-distracted world with smartphones in every pocket, spending time in nature can be an incredible relief for anyone feeling overwhelmed by their current environment.

Behavior Tips

If you want to experiment with forest bathing, try finding the closest park or forest near you. The easier it is to get to, the more likely you will be to visit.

Make it an event

  1. Add an event to your calendar 'Forest Bathing' and give yourself 30 minutes with enough time to travel. Don't rush yourself.
  2. Leave your phone at your home or office (or turn it on do not disturb)

Soak in the forest

  1. Upon arrival, set your intention to enjoy the experience and learn from whatever happens
  2. Find a place to sit and allow yourself to fully arrive in the space with all your senses
  3. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest. Notice how they come and go.
  4. Gently breathe in and out through your nose. Feel the coolness in your nostrils. Notice the smells and whatever comes to mind.
  5. Open your eyes. Watch the world of color, texture and light rush in.

Walk around and explore

  1. As you take your first step, notice the sounds.
  2. Find something you'd like to touch and move towards it, feeling your bodyweight shifting between each step.
  3. Relax your shoulders and your jaw as you move
  4. Glide your hands across the bark of a tree.
  5. Grab a handful of soil / leaves from the forest floor. Notice what you see.

Have fun! I've made a 10-minute video as a of a guided meditation following the above, in case you find it useful.

How I make this a habit

Do you have a weekly zoom call? I do.

Why not take the call out in nature as much as you can? Use your mobile phone as a personal hotspot if you need your laptop, otherwise just rock up with your phone and enjoy the sights and sounds of birds and trees.

I've got a beautiful park called The Plantation Gardens thats a six minute walk away from my office in Norwich. I jog there every Wednesday for my weekly Happy Startup 2020 Vision call at 2pm. It's a lot of fun!

Closing Thoughts

If you're ever feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, give yourself a break and walk around in nature. It doesn't have to be a forest. Just getting into nature and absorbing the sights and sounds can be a welcome release.

As always, have fun, be kind to yourself and let me know of this week's happy habit!

Citations

  1. Park, B.J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T. et al. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med15, 18 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9
  2. World Economic Forum: How Has The World's Urban Population Changed from 1950 to Today?
  3. McGonagle, K.A. and Kessler, R.C. (1990), Chronic stress, acute stress, and depressive symptoms. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18: 681-706. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00931237
  4. Nicolas Rohleder, Stress and inflammation โ€“ The need to address the gap in the transition between acute and chronic stress effects, Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 105, 2019, Pages 164-171,ISSN 0306-4530, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.02.021.
  5. Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K. Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017; 14(8):851. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080851
← ๐Ÿ’ฌ Happy Habit #9: Chat with Someone in Line
๐ŸŒฌ Happy Habit #7: Three-Minute Breathing Space →

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