On a recent trip to Japan I was able to observe and experience the process of forest bathing up close.
In 1982, the Japanese first used the term Shinrin Yoku to describe the practice of forest bathing. It means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ and has been seen ever since as an antidote to the workaholic nature of the Japanese people. They also have a word for this – Koroshi ‘death from overworking’.
What the Japanese have articulated and the Indigenous people of the world have observed as an integral part of their lives for thousands of years, is now being recognised and validated by western science.
A few years ago I discussed the phenomenon with Dr Michael YellowBird, a Native American academic and member of the three affiliated tribes. He believes all humans are predisposed to what he terms ‘environmental monogamy’. A process whereby we have a release of chemicals in the brain that have a positive effect when we are in nature.
Western science now tells us what happens are changes in the pre-frontal cortex (the executive function in the brain which manages the input of complex information, memory, problem solving, logic, reasoning etc) which is dialled down when we are in natural environments including the forest, sea and other natural open spaces. Mood changes, stress levels are lowered and we find renewed energy levels.
As the pace of urban life steadily increases and we are bombarded with technology, the simplicity of our natural environments have much to teach us.