Nature - ubiquitous and awe-inspiring but do we fully embrace our connection to it and reap the benefits of this relationship?
We live in a world that is increasingly urbanized, we are working harder and spending more time in front of a screen; be it our phone, computer or TV. It is certainly not our intended way of being and is creating a population with increased stress and anxiety, affecting even our precious children. As a naturopath, stress, anxiety and depression would have to be the most common issues I see, and it is not enough to simply take a pill, whether it be pharmaceutical or natural medicine- we need practical strategies to find balance and peace within ourselves.
The Japanese have a word ‘Karoshi’ meaning death by overwork and I am sure we can all relate to this sometimes but they also came up with a solution to this- Shinrin Yoku, which describes the act of making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest, or to put it more simply, forest bathing.
They conducted studies and discovered (what we intrinsically know to be true) that being in the presence of nature not only promotes a sense of calm, but that it can measurably produce physiological changes.
The New York Department of Environment and Conservation cited multiple studies that showed favourable changes to salivary cortisol, pulse rate, blood pressure, heart rate variability and blood glucose levels. They showed that spending time in nature can reduce stress, improve mood, increase energy levels and ability to concentrate, improve sleep, boost the immune system and reduce recovery time from illness and surgery.
Forest bathing was associated with increased parasympathetic nerve activity (your rest and digest nervous system) and reduced sympathetic nerve activity (your fight or flight nervous system). What this means is that you will experience greater calm, better digestion and assimilation of nutrients, better cognitive function and improved sleep.
Breathing in the forest air is more than merely refreshing- the essential oils in the air from the leaves and wood of the trees have antimicrobial activity and can boost your immune system, possibly even help to prevent cancer according to a 2007 study.
Trees produce these essential oils (phytoncides) as a defence against predators and it has been found that these organic compounds can significantly enhance Natural Killer (NK) cell activity. NK cells are the immune cells responsible for fighting cancer. Now, while these studies were conducted in forest environments, our beautiful Australian bush is also a wonderful environment to experience all of this. Whatever environment resonates with you is where you need to be.
There are some important things to consider before you head off if you want a truly therapeutic effect.
Allow yourself time to relax and restore and be grateful for this time you have to connect.
Your walk needs to be slow and deliberate- it is not a heart-racing trek through the bush; the idea is to meditate while walking - emptying your mind of any running dialogue and concentrating only on your senses.
Keeping your focus present. You are just feeling, not thinking and everything else falls away.
Look at the way the light comes in through the trees, the shadows cast, shapes and colours. Look closely and let nature draw you in, marvel at the intricacy and beauty.
Listen to the many layers of sound; from the crunch of leaves and sticks underfoot to the many insect and bird noises and to the earthy hum of something huge and unknown, enjoy the mystery.
Run your fingers along the leaves and branches as you walk by, notice the differences in texture and moisture in what you touch.
I think smell is probably the most transformative of all the senses and is of course the most primal. Olfactory nerves connect to the limbic system in the brain, which plays a major role in controlling mood, emotions, memory and behaviour.
Inhalation is actually one of the oldest methods of drug use and can produce immediate psychological and physiological effects. It is something so simple, doesn’t cost much and has such restorative power.
If you find you can’t make it to the forest/bush/park as much as you’d like to, try diffusing some essential oils and meditating in a peaceful place at home.
Here at love & tonic we stock the Shinrin yoku, forest bathing Room Spray from Perfect Potion, that creates an atmosphere of calm and serenity, come in store and smell the blend of the lush forest-green scent of Siberian fir CO2 extract blended with pure essential oils of lemon, bergamot, lavender, sage, rosemary, Virginian cedarwood, geranium and sweet orange.