People in the past have made use of nature’s healing properties and have learnt to live in harmony with it, but with urbanisation and digitalisation, we’ve become more distant from it. It comes as no surprise that nature is close to our hearts and that we feel an inexplicable connection with it. The environment possesses the ultimate power to heal us because it has everything we need for our ultimate well-being.
Nevertheless, people are slowly spending more time in nature, and it is set to become the top trend of 2022 and onwards. “The Future of Wellness 2022”, which is the Global Wellness Summit’s annual report, for example, sees naturalism and exposure to soil as dominating the wellness trends in 2022. Reconnecting with nature is also manifested in interior design, with the biophilic design taking precedence.
Studies show that nature can have a great deal of impact on our mental health. In a study by the Mental Health Foundation, 70% of UK adults said that being close to nature improves their mood.
With nature being one of the best and free healers at our disposal, we explore how you can immerse yourself in it to improve your physical and mental health.
In Japan, shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, is a popular practice. It stands for reconnecting with the Earth and yourself through immersing all your senses in nature. Dating back to the 1980s, forest bathing was discovered as a way to reduce stress, improve mood, and boost immunity during the national health crisis.
But how is spending time in nature helping us improve our health and mood? The answer is phytoncides. Phytoncides are airborne chemical compounds that protect trees and other plants from fungal, bacterial, and insect attacks. When we absorb them through our olfactory glands, we also inhale their protective properties.
One of the greatest benefits of phytoncides on the human body is their ability to increase the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, which are a type of white blood cell that attach to a wide range of infectious substances, cancer cells, and tumours.
A study by Tsung-Ming Tsao et al. examined two groups of people to investigate the effects of forest environment exposure on NK cells. One of the groups consisted of 90 forest staff members in Xitou, Taiwan and the other group was comprised of 110 urban staff members in Taipei. The results showed that NK cells were higher in the forest group than in the urban group (19.5 ± 9.1% compared to 16.4 ± 8.4%).
They say that nature helps you sleep better, which is also down to phytoncides. A study by Junsung Woo and C. Justin Lee showed that major phytoncides, including α-pinene and 3-carene, enhance the quantity of non-REM sleep, therefore forest therapy is a viable treatment for sleep disorders.
Forest bathing is becoming more and more popular amongst people. In fact, according to Exploding Topics, Google search volumes for “forest bathing” have increased by 183% over the last five years.
There are many ways you can immerse yourself in nature. Walking, jogging, and hiking are only some of the options.
But you can also go the extra mile in your forest bathing adventure and take inspiration from the Scandinavians and friluftsliv. Translated in English as ‘open-air living’, friluftsliv, pronounced ‘free-loofts-liv’, is the practice of spending as much time as possible outdoors in order to improve your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
People in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are committed to starting their day with brisk morning hikes, having lunchtime community runs, and afternoon bicycle rides, all as part of their normal working day. The laws are also in favour of friluftsliv in many Scandinavian countries, as they permit people to walk or camp wherever they want, as long as they respect their surroundings.
As you can see, you don’t have to go overboard with forest bathing and live like a caveman. There are a variety of simple steps you can take towards spending more time in nature and reaping the benefits of phytoncides. If you prefer a more active way of embracing nature that fuses modern technology with exercise, why not visit a nearby forest or park during the weekend on your mountain bike? That way, you’re not only breathing in that fresh air but also raising your heart rate and improving your health. If you enjoy a more relaxed activity, a picnic in the park with your friends is your best bet.
With summer on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to embrace the outdoors and immerse yourself in the healing scents of nature, so that you can enjoy optimal health and well-being. Let your senses soak in that good prana!