Forest bathing. Made in Japan.
I’ve just returned from skiing in the Shiga Kogen region in Japan. The last time I had skis strapped to my feet was 16 years ago so was I just a little bit nervous? Yes.
Well, it works out that skiing really is like riding a bike. You don’t forget how to do it. Or should I say, your brain doesn’t forget the habits you formed all those years ago. So as soon as I lifted my rump off the chairlift with my feet locked into those unbendable boots, and they in turn locked on the top of long strips of carbon fibre; my body knew what it had to do to get me back down the mountain. It was a fantastic week with all the boxes ticked - physical, mental, and social.
But there was something else.
It was the getting out and immersing myself in nature for eight days. Cities are spreading and we are all becoming more urban. Technology is benefiting us in numerous ways but it’s also occupying more of our time. We could easily slip into “nature deficit” unless we consciously make some effort to reverse the trend.
Being amongst the trees that were heavily laden with snow was beautiful. As you slowly ride back up the mountain on the chairlift, the calming effect was instant (and intense).
Coincidentally, from 2004 to 2012, Japan spent $4m studying the physiological and psychological effects of being amongst trees. They refer to it as “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing”. A professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Qing Li, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. Li’s study showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods. It’s understood that many trees give off organic compounds that support our NK cells that are part of our immune system's way of fighting cancer.
Find some trees. Walk calmly. Breathe. Smile.
Forest bathing is not recognised only in Japan. In South Korea, researchers are treating young video game addicts with forest bathing trips helping them feel happier, less anxious, and more optimistic. And in Finland, researchers have found evidence that even a short walk in an urban park is significantly more beneficial to stress relief than a walk in an urban setting.
So if you’re a city dweller, or you work in the city, instead of taking that lunch time walk in the shopping mall, get yourself to the park and breathe in those organic compounds. If not during work, then after work. You’ll help your mood, performance, and memory.