“Go sit in the woods.” My friend Bobbie and I used to joke that if anyone ever complained to either of us about any type of malady or imbalance—physical, emotional, spiritual, whatever—that this would thereafter be our universal refrain and prescription, as we each had spent much time in the forest alone, and invariably found it to be centering and healing. For me, often even just a few minutes in the solitude of a quiet woodland can draw me out my brain and back into an awareness of the timelessness of the present moment, as well as awareness of (and connection to) my body. Just intuitively, but undeniably, this simple practice has always seemed to me to hold tremendous—and largely untapped—power and potential for healing.
Well, for those of you who may need a little empirical data to back up such non-scientific claims, the Japanese have been studying the physiological effects of spending time in the forest, and have found strong evidence of its healing effects. “Shinrin-yoku“, literally “taking in the forest atmosphere” or simply “forest bathing”, has been shown to reduce stress hormones, pulse rate, blood pressure, and sympathetic (fight or flight) nerve activity, while boosting bodily levels of immune system lymphocytes and anti-cancer proteins. Some of these effects occurred after as little as 20 minutes of simply looking at a forested landscape, while others have been shown to last a month or more after spending time in woodland. Much of the benefit has been attributed to phytoncides, or essential oils released by trees that contain anti-microbial properties, but to me there is something way more holistic and synergistic going on, which needs no more validation than what the experience itself provides. You can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, as the saying goes, so next time you’re feeling out of sorts, you know what to do.