Forest bathing, also known as ‘shinrin-yoku’, was first developed in Japan in the 1980s after scientific studies were carried out by the Japanese government. The results of the studies showed that two hours of time spent mindfully exploring in a forest could reduce blood pressure, improve concentration and memory and lower stress levels (through reducing cortisol, the stress hormone). They also discovered that trees release chemicals called phytoncides that have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, which boost the immune system.
As a result of these findings, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme. Since then, forest bathing has begun to become popular elsewhere. The National Trust in the UK, for example, recommends forest bathing as a way to unwind and feel refreshed. This has been backed this up by science, with academics from the University of Derby in 2018, discovering that when people connect to nature, this significantly improves their wellbeing.
I was first introduced to the idea of forest bathing by Dr Diana Beresford-Kroeger who holds a bachelor of science in classical botany, a B.Sc. in medical biochemistry, a master’s degree in plant physiology, a PhD in cardiac ischemia (damage due to low levels of oxygen in the heart), and a diploma in general surgery together with a fellowship in the effects of radiation on biology systems. She has published in the top medical journals in the world, such as the American Heart Journal.
Diana has also written a inspiring books and filmed a documentary called, Call of the Forest: The forgotten wisdom of Trees. The documentary explores the most beautiful forests in the northern hemisphere and shares the stories behind the history and legacy of these ancient forests while also explaining the science of trees, and the irreplaceable roles that they play in protecting and feeding the planet. Not only do they provide oxygen for us to breathe - forests are known as the lungs of the world – but they also provide us with medicine to promote our wellbeing.
You don’t need to go to Japan to enjoy the benefits of tree bathing though. You can enjoy the benefits even here in Guernsey, in one of our pine forests. As Dr Beresford-Kroeger writes, “Go outside and find yourself a pine tree…Take twenty minutes out of your life in the company of these evergreens at noontime. They produce three aerosol molecules called pinenes. Inhale deeply in the presence of one of these trees and the T-cells of your circulating blood will immediately increase, boosting your immune system for free. This effect of one visit will last for thirty days. This is true for men, women, and children. A strong immune system is always your secret weapon.”
These are wise words and timely too as we try to strengthen our immune systems with the threat of mutation of coronavirus still very real. The answer is simple, get outside and find your way to the Guet or the pine forest at Pleinmont or Jerbourg. Go at noon and sit under a tree, then wander around, enjoying the forest environment, hug a tree if you can. If you can’t get out to a pine forest then perhaps inhale pine essential oil instead. Derived from the needles of the pine tree, the scent of pine essential oil is known to have a clarifying, uplifting and invigorating effect.
Furthermore, pine essential oil has antibacterial, antiseptic, decongestant, diuretic, stimulant, antiviral, anti-rheumatic, deodorant, expectorant and antifungal properties and is useful in protecting the body against harmful germs. In the process it positively effects the mood by clearing the mind of stresses, energising the body and helping to reduce fatigue, enhancing concentration/clarity and promoting a positive outlook. You can add a few drops of the oil to a diffuser to scent a room, or add a few drops to a tissue and inhale from that.
“Go outside and find yourself a pine tree…Take twenty minutes out of your life in the company of these evergreens at noontime. They produce three aerosol molecules called pinenes. Inhale deeply in the presence of one of these trees and the T-cells of your circulating blood will immediately increase, boosting your immune system for free. This effect of one visit will last for thirty days. This is true for men, women, and children. A strong immune system is always your secret weapon.”
It’s not just the aerosols secreted by trees that make a difference to our wellbeing, but simply being in nature. Many of us live disconnected from nature suffering from stress, depression and anxiety. We underestimate the need for a solid foundation in our lives, laying roots that nourish and sustain us, connecting us to the earth and living with the awareness of the ebb and flow of the passing seasons and the moon cycle and planetary shifts. We only have to witness the mighty oak tree to understand the value of first establishing roots from which we grow, deepening our connection between earth and sky.
Like trees, we sometimes need to shed our leaves, let go of the leaves we have grown, and create new ones that are more aligned to our life in the next cycle. The tree does not hold onto its leaves confused and indecisive, it does not grip on when it needs to let go, there is a gentle grace that comes from knowing its place in all things and the cycle of all life, birth and death, earth and sky and everything in between. The sun and the moon know this too, rising and setting, waxing and waning, not holding on when it is time to change and transform.
Many try to force things to happen in their lives without first establish their foundation. In yoga there is no point rushing to the advanced postures until we have first practiced those that will allow us to establish a solid foundation, for example. In everything, we need to start at the beginning, we need to ensure there is solidity to that which we are creating, like a house requiring foundations, a tree requiring roots, so we too, must begin at our base and work our way up from there.
As we spend time in nature and create a deeper connection to it, so we begin to notice more of our own nature, that we are the micro of the macro – more often than not, the way we treat ourselves is a reflection of the way we treat our planet. The more we can cultivate greater respect and love for self, the more we respect and love our planet too. We start to appreciate nature and the need to protect it, trees especially for providing us with oxygen to breathe and an ecosystem and home for many species.
My friend, Jo de Diepold Braham, who used to live on Guernsey, has recently established The Children’s Forest, a project to help encourage more children back to nature, sitting together around a central fire and envisioning a forest, before turning their vision into a reality. Here’s the link to lovely little video about this project, about planting their vision, which will undoubtably inspire you to get grow trees and get into a forest.
It inspired our ‘Plant A Tree Project’ which we are hoping to launch in Autumn, offering free seedlings and baby trees for children to plant and tend to in their gardens, more information here. I have also recorded a Children’s Yoga: Journey into the Children’s Forest video, which you are view here. The key though, is to get outside, into nature and allow nature to work her magic on you.