Try it: Forest Bathing

old green forest

It’s time to stop and smell the trees

“Forest bathing,” also known as Shinrin-yoku, has been studied at length in Japan and lauded for its health benefits, including reducing stress, boosting focus and increasing production of anti-cancer proteins. But what exactly is it?

Described as a contemplative walk or immersing oneself in the woods, the key to the practice is lingering in the experience. Its preventative health benefits come from taking in the atmosphere in a forest—breathing deeply and inhaling the scents around you—not from a brisk hike through the woods.

Several studies have examined the effects of forest bathing on the human immune system. A group of Japanese adults were evaluated several times during a 3-day forest trip, then again seven and 30 days after the trip. Blood and urine samples were evaluated for an increase in immune-boosting properties. After forest bathing, the immune-boosting properties significantly increased and lasted beyond the 30-day mark. Scientists speculate that breathing in essential oils from the surrounding trees, a type of natural aromatherapy, may be the source of the increase.

Though the practice seems intuitive, infusing mindfulness and meditation into outdoor experiences is a growing trend both nationally and locally in Raleigh. The Shinrin-Yoku organization in San Francisco offers a 7-day program to become a certified forest therapy guide. Locally, the Cary-based MIMEwalk meetup group has incorporated principles of forest bathing into their gatherings.

Getting Dirty

In her new book “The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight From the Soil,” Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, an integrative pediatric neurologist, looks at how getting closer to nature—in what you eat and how you play—can dramatically improve your health. Studies show exposure to healthy microbes in soil increases serotonin levels in kids and can protect against allergies. So she advises we all get a little dirty—visit a farm, run around barefoot, and give hand sanitizer a break.

Not-so-Common Scents

Bring a bit of the outdoors to your desk

Getting outside can sometimes be challenging when you have a desk job but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring some of the health benefits indoors.

“Essential oils support and strengthen our immune system so the body can do what it’s supposed to do,” says certified clinical aromatherapist Sue Dwiggins. She teaches a class called “Essential Oils in the Workplace” to help people incorporate aromatherapy at work.

“You don’t want to get in other people’s personal space,” she says but there are ways to use essential oils without offending your neighbor. She suggests using your cup of coffee or tea as a makeshift diffuser: add a couple of essential oil drops to a tissue then place it under your hot mug.

According to Dwiggins, the two main chemical components in aromatherapy that can support the immune system are limonene (an anti-viral compound) and pinene (an antiseptic).

Choose from one of these oils that contain the immune-boosting chemicals.

Cedarwood Atlas

Also helps with focus – an asset in any office.

Clove

Also helps with nerve pain.

Lemon

Also boosts energy – a great afternoon pick-me up.

Frankincense

Also calms and soothes the skin.

Alexandra Drosu
Alexandra Drosu

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