Updated: Feb 3
The Japanese called it Shinrin-yoku. In our modern society, we tend to lose our connection to the earth. As people are getting more challenged with physical and mental illnesses and are more medicated, research shows that simply rekindling our relationship with mother nature provides various health benefits. How about some forest bathing!
The Japanese actually have been practicing Shinrin-yoku since the 80’s. It is the art of being fully present in a forest and experiencing it with all your senses. It has been proven to provide a positive impact on body and mind. Not only does it offer a calming effect, but it also has a restorative impact and allows us to learn to be fully present with ourselves. This is called the medicine of the natural forest.
Practitioners state that forest bathing helps with blood pressure, reduces stress, boosts the immune system, improves mood and sleep, increases energy and the ability to focus as well as helps with a quicker recovery from surgery or illness.
What is the true science behind those statements? The Japanese researcher Qing Li believes that the higher oxygen level in a forest environment is partly responsible for those health benefits, but it seems to not be all. Trees are releasing a natural oil called Phytoncides that helps protect them against bacteria and insects. It appears that being exposed to those natural chemicals regulates blood pressure and stress levels.
Nature therapy is an ancient practice dating back to 2000 years ago in Ancient Persia. Unfortunately, we tend to have lost the practice as our lives have drawn us more and more to the cover of our homes and offices. A 2019 study shows hope as it reveals that only 2 hours a week in nature is needed to see an improvement in feeling healthier, and more satisfied with our lives.
If going out into the woods is not practical for you, or not something you would want to experience, enjoying your backyard is possibly enough. As doctor Christiane Northrup, M.D., states: “Dirt is not just good for children. We all need a little dirt in our lives!”.
Not only trees and a forest environment are beneficial to our bodies and souls but research in the last decade has shown that microbes and bacteria in dirt can help boost our immune system. The soil microbes called Mycobacterium Vaccae has an antidepressant effect on the brain.
Bipolar disorders, anxiety, depression, OCD, to name a few have been linked to a lack of serotonin. Doctor Northrup states that studies are showing Mycobacterium Vaccae to have the same effect on the brain than drugs like Prozac and without the side effects or chemical dependency.
In our germaphobic society, the overuse of hand sanitizers and strong cleaning agents could be achieving the opposite effect and weakening our immune system over time. A 2012 study of Amish children published in the “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology” shows that those children who live in farms and in constant contact with the earth show a 50% reduction in asthma, allergies, and gut-related issues than kids growing in a more sterile environment. The finding is called “The Farm-Effect”.
The recent study on the gut microbiome or gut bacteria is also pointing to the same conclusions. People living in a more sterile environment are showing a less diverse gut bacteria leaving them more susceptible to various immune disorders. The lack of routine exposure to harmless bacteria and microorganism is now called “The Biome Depletion Theory”. More doctors are now aware of the issue and writing “park prescriptions” for various conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and ADD.
Now that we are facing COVID-19, the amount of strong cleaning agents we are using is much higher. It is even more crucial these days to be exposed to the outdoors while social distancing to give our immune system a boost. As the variety of our activities has been greatly reduced, let’s dedicate more time to play in the dirt and hug a tree! Enjoy some Phytoncides or Mycobacterium Vaccae! Dirty nails might become the new sexy! 😉
By Sophie Terrillon Webster, MBA
Certified Health and Nutrition Life Coach, CLC, CHC
Laureavida Wellness LLC