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Forest Bathing: A Practice to Improve Physical and Mental Health

Imagine for a minute that its just before dawn breaks and you make your way to a spot in the forest. The cool air begins to fill your lungs. The smell of the trees send an intoxicating aroma through your nasal pathways. You feel the earth beneath you as you step into the dewy grass.

Life is just starting to awaken as a symphony of creatures sing melodies soothing to the ears. The morning sun is making its entrance as it peaks over the horizon. Soon its rays will filter through the many rows of trees, creating an image to beautiful to explain in words. As you take this all in you realize that true healing can begin.

This is what it’s like to experience the magnificent power of shinrin-yoku or in other words, forest bathing.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term for forest bathing, a way of life that was first popularized in 1982 in Japan. What is the concept, you ask? Go into wooded areas and become one with nature. Once there, you will use the power of plants, trees, fresh air and creatures to heal your soul. This practice allows you to create an opportunity to be mindful of the present moment allowing all of your senses to work in unison for the betterment of your physical and mental health.

How does it heal? Studies have shown that returning to nature has the ability to do the following:

  • Lower heart rate

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Reduce stress

  • Reduce depression

  • Boost energy

  • Improve overall well being

Practicing forest bathing can also provide a healthy boost to your immune system. How? It’s simple! Tree’s emit oils called phytoncides. These oils help to protect against germs and provide antimicrobial properties that a person breathes in during a walk in the forest.

In addition, walking in the forest especially on a sunny day can increase natural vitamin D levels which also help to improve your overall mood.

Forest bathing is free and you can reap the benefits in as little as 15 minutes.

Keep in mind that it’s not just a walk in the forest, but the ability to take in all that nature has to offer. Leaving your electronics at home will help you to be more present. Take a journal with you to jot down any thoughts, feelings, sites and sounds that you notice. Be sure to include a list of what you are grateful for in nature. However, this is not necessary in order to reap the benefits. Just being present in the forest is enough.

Stop and listen to the sounds, dip your feet in a fresh water creek, sit by a tree and just breathe. There is not right or wrong to forest bathing, you just need to show up. Luckily, living in northeast Iowa provides you with many places to practice forest bathing. Check out Pikes Peak State Park, Effigy Mounds, Yellow River, or Bloody Run for the perfect place to give forest bathing a try.

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