When was the last time you bathed in the forest? I'm not referring to the cooling shower you might take under a tropical waterfall, nor skinny-dipping in a billabong under the shade of a Coolabah tree.
Forest bathing, also known as "taking in the forest" or "Shinrin-yoku", is the name given to the experience of finding happiness and wellbeing in nature. The concept is an initiative of the Forest Agency of Japan, and was introduced by the Japanese government in 1982.
Field studies, involving a series of physiological experiments and surveys, were initially carried out on a biosphere reserve on the island of Yakushima. The area is said to be rich in flora, with massed forests of ancient cedar and conifer trees among the 2,000 or so plant species. Preliminary findings were published by the scientists in the 1990s, when it was found that "forest-air bathing and walking effectively decreases blood glucose levels in diabetic patients".
Since then, research has indicated that spending time in a forest environment "has been linked with decreased cortisol, lowered blood pressure, and improved heart rate variability", among other things. Further studies are underway, and of course there are numerous questions still to be answered, but there is no doubt that quietly walking through green space is good for body, mind and soul.
Florence Williams, American author of a book titled The Nature Fix, says that spending time in nature can ward off depression, and offers a spiritual shortcut to calming down our nervous systems. In an interview on Blueprint for Living with ABC RN's Jonathan Green recently, Ms Williams pointed out that humans are adaptable creatures and we can live a happy life in an in urban environment, but we are not giving ourselves the rest, or the breaks, that our brains need. "Our bodies need to move and walk ... our brains can benefit from the episode of looking at a tree, feeling the breeze on your cheek, watching the water flow by, and listening to the birds, " she said. Sage advice methinks.
Rather than joining a gym for the "pleasure" of walking on a treadmill, Peter and I enjoy taking advantage of the countryside surrounding our suburb. There are duck ponds and lakes that we can cycle around. There's also a magical, tree-lined track that leads past remnant pastoral properties, down an old country lane, which was once inhabited by the Ngunnawal people. The Aboriginals who lived here used the sacred red ochre pigment in the earth for their artwork and ceremonial rituals. Despite it being on the outskirts of our suburb in the city, we have found this "neck of the woods" to be a deeply spiritual place, perfect for long, contemplative walks. And Shinrin-yoku.
Over to you now, dear readers. Are you familiar with Shinrin-yoku? Do you find you feel better after spending time in the forest or green space? Is there such a special place close to where you live?
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- Liz Posmyk
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