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By: Cameron Rosin, ECS Nurse Educator

The magical art of forest bathing

Getting closer to nature was and still is a one of the ultimate ways for people to de-stress. Whilst a walk in the woods is undoubtably a soothing experience, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the therapeutic benefits of forays into nature. Through the Japanese art of forest bathing, you can enjoy more than just one benefit of being in nature.

 

Forest bathing refers to experiencing nature through all of your senses. The rustling of leaves, the bubbling of brooks, the sensations of a chill wind on your skin and an earthy floor beneath your feet. The act of forest bathing is simple. Go to the woods, wander, breath, feel. The science is less simple, but equally beautiful.

History of forest bathing

The practice of forest bathing began in 1980's Japan and received its name two years later from the Japanese Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture. It's best known by its Japanese name; shinrin-yoku.

 

In recent years, the practise of shinrin-yoku has spread across the globe. In Germany, forest therapy through exercising in the forest is one of the five core practices of Kneipp therapy (a modern therapeutic practise established by the acclaimed German priest Sebastian Kneipp). Another example is the USA recognising forest recreation as a vital form of social welfare. These days, you can get a guided tour anywhere in the world that can educate and guide you through the art of forest bathing.

How are terpenes connected to forest bathing?

Terpenes are the compounds in plants that are responsible for a plant's unique aroma, its vitamin and hormone production and defence mechanisms. Whether it be the citrusy punch of a freshly peeled orange or the soothing aroma of lavender crushed between your fingers, these scents are the results of tiny terpenes doing big things. 

In nature, these fragrances are necessary to protect the plant from infectious germs or hungry insects. In addition to repelling predators, they also attract pollinators. When it comes to forest bathing, however, many of the therapeutic benefits that come from a deep breath in a pine forest can be attributed to terpenes.

The intense physiological response that occurs after inhaling certain compounds isn't as simple as a lovely smell - terpenes are highly bioactive. Pharmacologically speaking, terpenes act on our neurotransmitter receptors; either as agonists (increasing neurotransmitter release), or as antagonists (reducing neurotransmitter release). There are thousands of terpenes in the wild. They've been omnipresent throughout the history of medicine. We just didn't know it.

The terpenes responsible for the therapeutic effects of forest bathing are limonene, b-caryophyllene, pinene and myrcene.

Presence of pinene within forests

Pinene is a naturally abundant terpene that people can benefit from in numerous ways. The most common isomers or monoterpenes of this compound are a-pinene and b-pinene. These are found in the oils of rosemary, pine trees, and other coniferous trees. 

Pinene can be used in multiple therapeutic areas. Its benefits range from helping to open airways, especially for asthmatic patients (bronchodilator) and pain-relieving. Additionally, it has neuroprotective properties and can help prevent damage to your organs concerning free radicals and oxidative stress. 

Pinene is also an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Other benefits include:

  • Neurogenesis

  • Anxiolytic

  • Anti-anxiety

  • Anti-coagulation

  • Anti-cancerous tumour growth

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Anti-microbial

  • Antioxidant

  • Gastroprotective properties

Potential benefits of forest bathing

 

Forest bathing is drawn from the innate human need for nature. It's a great way to boost your mental, psychological and physiological well-being. 

 

One benefit of forest bathing is stress relief. Unlike urban walks, a walk through the forest can significantly reduces reduce the stress-inducing hormone cortisol, resulting in better moods, lower anxiety, and reduced mental pressure. Moreover, forest bathing facilitates the release of the happy hormones and neurotransmitters (oxytocin, serotonin and anandamide), aiding in neurochemical homeostasis and bringing us to a state of balance.

 

Additionally, forest bathing can help boost your immune system. Every time you breathe in the fresh air surrounded by plants and trees, you're breathing in phytoncides. Phytoncides can help enhance your body's ability to fight diseases. 

But that's not all. Every time you are ill, you can help improve or quicken your recovery time from the illness by simply going for a little forest walk. Nature is a catalyst in the recovery process and can prove to be your best friend at the time. Plus, if you can't get out of the house, then a look outside your window with a view of nature can prove most beneficial as compared to one with a more urban view.

That can explain why you may find patients in a hospital either walking through the hospital forest or at least having a good view of it from their windows. Some hospitals feature hospital gardens, especially for patients who are not in a critical condition but still need to be monitored in the hospital for a long while.

Moreover, you can help your body maintain a healthy heart through the art of forest bathing. That's because it allows you to lower high blood pressure significantly. Blood pressure levels in a forest environment are markedly lower than urban environments.

 

Another benefit of forest bathing is freeing up your creativity. In the old times (not that old really, maybe a decade or two ago), people proved to be more creative because of spending most of their time outdoors in nature. This can work now as well. By spending time immersed in nature for a couple of days, you can improve your creative problem-solving skills by at least 50 percent. Impressive right? The only catch is, you have to leave behind any modern technologies, including your phones and laptops.

Final thoughts

 

Forest bathing is a beneficial and easy practice that anyone can do. All you need to do is go out, take a walk in your favourite local forest and enjoy nature at its finest. 

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