May 28, 2020

Do You … Shinrin-Yoku?

The free immune system booster in your backyard.
By Ross Boissoneau | March 21, 2020

Sure, hiking trails is great. But get this: You don’t have to work up a sweat, or even stick to the trails, to gain natural benefits. Simply relaxing in a quiet, restful walk in the woods is beneficial.
 
Sure, that sounds like a good idea, but it’s more than that.  The ancient Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku — literally “forest bathing” — is all about surrounding yourself with nature. And according to science, it can strengthen your body’s defenses as well as lower stress, a known immune-system foe.
 
DOCUMENTED DATA
According to an article in the Atlantic, documented benefits to one’s health from shinrin-yoku include lowering one’s blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and stress hormones. The proof, you might say, is in the Purin: Japan made forest bathing a part of Japan’s national health program in 1982. 
 
Sally Littleton, PhD, is a Traverse City psychotherapist by trade. She came to the practice of Reiki as a result of dealing with her own health issues. From there she became familiar with shinrin-yoku. “It builds the natural ‘killer’ cells [a type of white blood cell] that boost the immune system. And being in nature boosts your mood. It’s a big part of what I teach in Reiki, to keep connected spiritually to light energy,” she said.

HOW TO? FOLLOW YOU
Dr. Qing Li, author of “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness,” wrote in Time magazine that shinrin-yoku is “simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. When it comes to finding calm and relaxation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution — it differs from person to person. It is important to find a place that suits you. 
 
“Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere.” 
 
Littleton said she simply goes into the woods near her home and stands and relaxes. “It helps us to heal and prevents disease. It’s not a new idea.”
 
She said shinrin-yoku can be very beneficial at this particular time, with people sequestering themselves from their usual social interactions. “People doing self-quarantining … being indoors all the time is very hard. Going into nature is available and easy to do. It helps us to cope with fear. Fear is dangerous. It suppresses our immune system.”
 
ONE LAST REMINDER
Perhaps it’s obvious but remember that Japan’s medically sanctioned method of unplugging came along long before there were smartphones to unplug from. Now that our tendency is to carry our smartphones and remain “plugged in” everywhere, day and night, forest bathing could be more of a critical prescription than ever. Consider leaving your phone (and even non-phone cameras) at home or in your car; studies also show the very presence of your phone in close vicinity makes it difficult to resist checking it, even when it’s set to silent.
 
Worried about getting lost in the woods? Then do it the way we all did in the ’80s: Stick to marked trails, carry a map, and/or tell a friend where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
 

Forest, Take Me Away
Tips for those new to shinrin-yoku 

· First, though it was developed in Japan, you don’t need to go there. In fact, you don’t even have to go to a forest. Anywhere in nature is good, according to Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a forest therapy guide certified with the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy. A lightly wooded area, the beach, a meadow, city park, garden, even your own backyard will work.

· This isn’t a test. Leave behind your goals and expectations. Wander aimlessly, let yourself engage with anything in your surroundings that interests you. 

· Get in touch with yourself and your senses. Pause from time to time to look more closely at your surroundings. Sniff the air. Listen for birds and notice the sensation of the ground beneath your feet. 

·  Think small. Stop and look closely at the leaf of a plant or the way the sun filters through the trees.

· It’s not social hour. If you are walking with others, make sure you’re keeping a distance and resist any urge to talk until the end of the walk.

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