Since the beginning of time, forests have provided much of what humans need for survival, ranging from clean air, fresh water, fruits and vegetables, wild game, shelter from the elements, and wood for building homes and starting fires. Our ancestor’s survival largely depended on what a healthy forest could provide.
As we transition into a brand new, entirely technological age, it can be easy to lose touch with our biological, evolutionary roots that connect us to the ever-changing world we live in
One practice emphasizing appreciation of nature and overall well-being, is shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.
Forest Bathing: What is it?
The goal of forest bathing is to close the gap between humans and the natural world in an overtly digital age, connecting with the Earth through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. This can be done by taking slow walks in the forest, sleeping under the stars, swimming in fresh water, forest meditation, and other outdoor activities that emphasize focusing on the world around you.
Forest bathing provides individuals with a way to enjoy the wonders of the natural world, putting focus on mindfulness while offering stress-reducing, meditative, immune-boosting benefits.
Forest Bathing: Shinrin-Yoku
In Japan, the Japanese Forest Agency introduced a program for shinrin-yoku in 1982, aiming to decrease stress levels and increase productivity in workers. Year later, the Japanese Society of Forest Therapy was founded in 2004, seeking to perform evidence-based research on the impact of forest environments on human health, all from a scientific perspective.
Over the years, we have learned that the practice of shinrin-yoku can reduce stress hormones and improve sleep quality, which lowers blood pressure and the risk of hypertension, alongside other diseases largely caused by poor lifestyle choices and environmental factors such as pollution. This can also be linked to shinrin-yoku’s ability to reduce the symptoms for anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue.
A Worldwide Phenomenon
In 2020, Finland ranked highest on the World Happiness Report from Gallup for the third year running, and it isn’t difficult to imagine why. In a country with accessible healthcare, a thriving school system, and low crime levels, one factor that tends to be overlooked by foreigners is the country’s sheer abundance of nature. 74.2% of the land area is forested, maintaining Finland’s title as Europe’s most heavily forested country. With 40 national parks, countless hiking trails, and the islands of the Baltic Sea, the Finnish landscape is an outdoorsman’s paradise.
As illegal logging and deforestation continues to disrupt organic ecosystems, decimate animal/plant life, and displace civilizations, it is increasingly important to preserve and protect the world’s last standing forests. Luckily, there are a multitude of social and political movements dedicated to preserving what is left from generations of destruction.
Along with this, people are spending more time in nature than they have in years, with a surge of public interest in camping, fishing, and hiking. This increase occurs with its own set of challenges, such as reminding people to leave no trace, to preserve the natural beauty of the areas explored, and more.
Like the ocean, forests are a vital component of both the planet and mankind’s long-term survival. With modern civilization slowly leaning towards our roots of environmental awareness and conservation, more people are spending time outdoors. It is widely agreed upon knowledge that health is not reliant simply the state of your physical body, but your mind and spirit as well.
Going into 2022, if you make it a point to spend some quality time in the natural world, you may discover tremendous changes in your quality of life and mental state.