I have always loved forests. I don’t know where that comes from. But whenever I’m in one, I feel as though I can finally breathe in the way I was meant to breathe, deeply and fully. Being among trees refreshes me in a way that nothing else can.
Science shows us that I’m not alone in that feeling—nor am I wrong in my belief in the healing power of trees. In fact, the Japanese have developed a therapy program based on woods walking: it’s called shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing.”
In his research lab, Qing Li, associate professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, has produced some of the first hard evidence that a walk in the woods can help prevent cancer, lessen depression, fight obesity and reduce stress. The biggest health benefits are received through our olfactory sense: Li’s research shows that trees’ aromas, known as phytoncides—the medical equivalent of essential oils—boost our body’s NK (natural killer) cells, which help fight tumors and cells infected with viruses. To date, Li has found that the most effective aroma comes from the Japanese cypress.
Watch the video below, produced by faircompanies.com and titled Science of “Forest Bathing”: Fewer Maladies, More Well-Being?, in which Professor Qing Li describes his research. Surprisingly, he’s discovered that even a “bottled forest”—when the phytoncides are distilled down to an essential oil—had some of the same health advantages as physically spending time in a real forest.
The Japanese government has taken note of Li’s research and has invested millions of dollars in 60 “forest therapy trails,” where the forests have the sufficient density and the trails are of sufficient length to provide the benefits of forest bathing.
The guidelines for taking a forest bath are simple:
1) Go untethered, without a camera, cell phone or other distractions.
2) Leave your goals behind. Let your mind wander.
3) When you sit, be quiet and still.
4) Refrain from conversation.
Like the outer space alphabet made from images taken by astronauts and satellites, forest bathing represents that sweet spot where nature meets science. We need both. And when they intersect, we get something so much greater than the sum of the two parts.
If you can, get out and take a walk in the woods today. And don’t forget to breathe in—deeply.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,