The quintessential stereotype of self care is taking a nice bath. What would happen if this was a forest bath? No, I am not talking about filling your tub with leaves and pine needles! I am referring to the practice of Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. "The term Shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest", basically taking a walk in the woods.6 You may have noticed that you feel more relaxed and rejuvenated after spending time in nature. Researchers have been exploring this and have found evidence of positive psychological benefits.
Studies have found that spending time in nature can reduce concentrations of stress hormones, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, and increase the body's relaxation response when compared to spending time in city settings.6 While the exercise that comes from walking or the possible social nature of a walk in the woods could have impacts, studies suggest that the positive effects are "not totally attributable to walking or social cohesion" factors.8 Another study looked at particular emotional factors such as hostility, depression, and liveliness. These researchers found that negative emotions decreased and positive emotions increased on days spent in the forest versus not.5 It was even found that people who felt the most stressed experienced the most positive effects! 5
Why does nature have these positive effects on our well being? One theory is that time in nature offers opportunities for effortless attention and reflection thus reducing the mental fatigue that can build up from efforts to maintain focus.2 Other theories consider our evolutionary connections to the natural world or the ability of nature to inspire a feeling of connectedness to all living things.1 Many studies have also looked at the effects of natural chemicals released by plants and other airborne components such as microorganisms.1 Regardless of why, it does seem that time in nature increases our feelings of wellbeing.
If the lure of psychological benefits isn't enough for you, there are a slew of physiological benefits as well. For example, studies have found evidence that spending time in the forest decreases blood glucose levels in people with diabetes, increases in natural killer cell activity (which may indicate a preventive effect on cancer generation and progression4),and decreases blood pressure.1
What if you don't have time to go for a long walk in the woods? Research has suggested that the amount of time spent in the forest may not affect the beneficial outcomes.5 Positive effects have even been observed from just reaching the entrance to the forest! What if you don't have a forest near you? No problem! Studies have also explored the effects of viewing nature from a window and having plants in your room. Both of these have shown positive psychological and physiological results.3,7 If you want to get out there and try this fancy "Shinrun-yoku", but you don't know how, you are in luck! There are no specific requirements to reap the positive psychological and stress reducing benefits!5 Just get out there and soak in nature!
Craig, J. M., Logan, A. C., & Prescott, S. L. (2015). Natural environments, nature relatedness and the ecological theater: Connecting satellites and sequencing to shinrin-yoku. J Physiol Anthropol Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 35(1).
Herzog, T. R., Black, A. M., Fountaine, K. A., & Knotts, D. J. (1997). Reflection And Attentional Recovery As Distinctive Benefits Of Restorative Environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology,17(2), 165-170.
Kaplan, R. (2001). The Nature of the View from Home: Psychological Benefits. Environment and Behavior, 33(4), 507-542.
Li Q, Kawada T. Effect of forest environments on human natural killer (NK) activity. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2011;24(Supplement 1):39S-44S.
Morita, E., Fukuda, S., Nagano, J., Hamajima, N., Yamamoto, H., Iwai, Y., . . . Shirakawa, T. (2007). Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health, 121(1), 54-63.
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2009). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine Environ Health Prev Med,15(1), 18-26.
Park, S., & Mattson, R. H. (2009). Ornamental Indoor Plants in Hospital Rooms Enhanced Health Outcomes of Patients Recovering from Surgery. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(9), 975-980.
Sugiyama, T., Leslie, E., Giles-Corti, B., & Owen, N. (2008). Associations of neighbourhood greenness with physical and mental health: Do walking, social coherence and local social interaction explain the relationships? Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 62(5).
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at email@example.com or