Deep Forest Bathing
I love my claw foot bath – but deep forest bathing or the practice of shirin-yoku developed in Japan is the practice of bathing from the inside out, just through surrounding yourself with nature in a deep forest environment. Also known as forest therapy, benefits include reduced stress, lower blood sugar, better concentration, diminished pain, improved immunity and even anti-cancer effects.
Research has shown that when we leave the city and go out into nature in a forest environment that many of our biological stress indicators are lowered. This includes lower levels of cortisol our stress hormone, slower heart rate, blood pressure becomes lower, we have greater activity of parasympathetic nerves that promote relaxation and reduced activity of sympathetic nerves associated with “fight or flight” reactions to stress. Compared to their normal environments, inside a forest research participants said they felt less depressed and angry. The researchers noticed that the greater the participant’s levels of stress before going out into nature the greater the positive effects of forest bathing. The researchers concluded that forests are “therapeutic landscapes” and that forest bathing may decrease the risk of stress-related diseases
Lower blood sugar
In a non-controlled study, researchers have found that the forest walkers have lower blood glucose, improved insulin sensitivity, which indicates good blood sugar control. Any form of exercise practised regularly can help improve blood sugar regulation, particularly in people with diabetes.
Research in the United States has investigated the effects of natural green spaces on symptoms of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Researchers have found children with ADHD who were encouraged to play in natural environments rather than urban settings had substantially improved concentration.
Researchers have studied the effects of nature scenery and sounds on pain perception during bone marrow biopsy with only local anaesthetic. The researchers study one group of participants who experienced nature scenery and sounds during the biopsy, the second group city sounds and scenery, and the third group a standard medical setting. Overall, the procedure didn’t go well for any of the participants however the researchers were able to establish that viewing a nature scene and listening to nature sounds is a safe and inexpensive way to reduce pain during bone marrow biopsy.
Studies have examined immunity after three-day trips to the forest.
What was found was that forest walking decreased levels of stress hormones and increased anti-cancer proteins and increased the natural number of killer cells in the blood. When the participant’s blood was tested 30 days after the experience, their natural killer cells were still more active, suggesting forest walking could be important in the active prevention of cancer as well as a therapy for people diagnosed with cancer. Researchers believed that the wood essential oils, phytoncides, were responsible for the positive effects of forest air suggesting they can increase anti-cancer proteins and enhance natural killer cell activity
The benefits of forest bathing are difficult to research due to the difficulty of experimental control in a forest environment. What this means is it is hard to establish that the therapeutic benefits came solely from the exposure to nature and that other factors present during the experiment might have contributed to any of the results obtained.
However, it is clear from our own experience, immersing ourselves in nature, experiencing the green scenery and natural aromas of wood, plant and flowers in a forest environment are all beneficial to our health. What an excellent excuse to go for a walk in the forest as a way of cleansing ourselves from the inside out – and clearly may be just as beneficial or more beneficial than that relaxing bath we all crave.
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