Bathe your senses in the beauty of the forest

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Ohio forest

Most of my mornings start the same way — walking my dogs down to the creek. A morning walk might make me sound like I prioritize fitness in the morning. However, that’s not the case. My dogs just won’t leave me alone until it happens.

Even though it’s not my priority, I do enjoy our walk through the woods. There’s something about seeing early morning sunlight peeking through the leaf canopy that centers me for the day.

This daily ritual is even better on the weekends because my husband joins me on the trek with our dogs. Last weekend, we walked early when the air was still cool and the grass was damp. More leaves had fallen to the ground adding a crunching sound to our footsteps.

An increasing amount of amber and red leaves were speckling the treeline. We noticed the absence of monarchs on this walk; they had already flown south for the winter.

His stride is longer than mine, but I walk fast to keep up. I also talk fast because we don’t often have uninterrupted conversations with four kids in our family.

Homeopathic method

The topic of conversation somehow made its way to the recent outbreak of covid-19 cases.

“She went forest bathing every day,” I explained. I was sharing a story with him about a woman who used homeopathic methods to recover from covid-19.

“Did she wear a bathing suit or was she naked?” he asked.

He’s very literal. These were questions that had never occurred to me. I had to laugh. I went on, probably with too many details, explaining the history of forest bathing.

Forest bathing

In response to the increasing amount of technology in the 1980s, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries promoted the idea of Shinrin-yoku, translated to “forest bathing.” To answer my husband’s question, forest bathers are fully dressed.

Another translation made me chuckle. It is said that forest bathing allows people to absorb the forest atmosphere. How exactly does someone absorb the forest atmosphere? The same way I enjoy my walk with the dogs. They have a sensory experience in the forest.

Participants touch rough bark on the tree trunks and watch for birds in the branches. They listen to the wind in the trees or the chirp of a cricket. If possible, they might even eat wild berries.

At first, the idea seemed a little “new age-y” to me. It takes something that seems like common sense and gives it a weird-sounding label. But, there is scientific data to support it.

Good for you

Children and adults are spending more time indoors than ever before. Intentionally spending time outside has been proven to improve immunity and boost a person’s mood.

Forest bathing relies on input from all five senses. Breathing deeply in the woods means inhaling phytoncides and wood oils. Phytoncides are vaporous substances that protect plants from bacteria, insects, and fungi.

Over 5,000 known phytoncides are at work in the plant world as defenders. Not only do they smell good when you take a deep breath, but they also have been found to increase a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system in people. The white blood cells are natural killer cells that suppress cancer growth at the cellular level.

Forest bathing is different from hiking in that there’s not really a destination. It’s not a brisk walk to get somewhere. Instead, it is the act of appreciating all the natural beauty that surrounds you.

Scientists have found that forest bathing lowers systolic blood pressure. It can even be looked at as very affordable stress reduction therapy, potentially decreasing the number of doctor visits and prescribed medication.

Not only is there not a destination but all devices should be silenced and tucked away or even left behind at a safe location. The idea I once scoffed at is now sounding better and better.

It’s not crazy to think that forests were created to promote healing and provide sustenance. I might have to disappear into the woods for a bath on a regular basis … with my clothes on, of course, and two dogs running circles around me.

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