The Japanese pursuit of shinrin-yoku uses trees and nature to heal oneself – here's how you can do it even in a park.
Japanese “forest medicine” is the science of using nature to heal oneself of all that ails. In the 1980s, researchers in Japan started extolling the science behind the benefits of being outdoors. And in 1982, the Japanese government introduced the concept of shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing,” urging people to make use of the country’s generous wooded areas for therapy.
In the following decades the benefits of spending time amongst the trees have been confirmed over and over. One comprehensive review just concluded that spending time in greenspace "reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure, among other benefits." (See more here: Vast new study confirms significant health benefits of nature.)Which is all fine and good if you happen to live next to the woods. But what about the rest of us – the city mice who may be in need of some forest medicine the most? All is not lost!
A 2019 study found that in cities, the larger the green areas around citizens are, the higher is the their wellbeing. People who positively reacted to green areas were found to have reduced activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; also known as the part of the brain that helps process negative emotions and stress. "These results suggest that green areas are particularly important for persons, whose capacity to self-regulate negative emotions is reduced," said Professor Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg.
Which is where physician Qing Li comes in. Li is the chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine and author of the new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. It is such a lovely book; hard covered (for lots of thumbing through) and filled with beautiful photos of the woods. And Li's writing is wonderful. "I am a scientist, not a poet," he explains, as he writes poetically about the science of trees. He has taken it upon himself to investigate the how behind why nature makes us feel so good.
I want to know why we feel so much better when we are in nature. What is this secret power of trees that makes us feel so much healthier and happier?
The book beautifully explores the science of forest medicine – and goes into great detail about how to practice shinrin-yoku. And for those of us without much forest around? Li offers these simple steps for starters:
How to do shinrin-yoku in the park
1. Leave behind your phone, camera, music and any other distractions
2. Leave behind your expectations
3. Slow down; forget about the time
4. Come into the present moment
5. Find a spot to sit – on the grass, beside a tree, or on a park bench
6. Notice what you can hear and see
7. Notice what you feel
8. Stay for two hours if possible (though you will notice the effects after twenty minutes)
No phone? Sit on a bench for two hours? Can a city inhabitant actually find the courage to pursue such an endeavor? Well, I have tried it ... and I survived to tell you this: It is possible! And it is wonderful; I left a changed person and I plan to take this medicine on a regular basis. The trees are all around and here to help, why turn our backs on them? Instead, take a break, embrace them, and let their secret powers do some magic.