Complementary medicines have an image problem with some people who think they are a little too “woo-hoo,” or not based solidly enough in science.
In the case of acupuncture, we have more than 3,000 years of experience that proves its efficacy. Other practices are much newer, but still pass the common-sense test: They make us feel better.
Forest bathing is an example that is gaining attention in the U.S.
Like yoga or meditation, you can practice it yourself. Despite its name, forest bathing is enjoyed while fully clothed, and it is a way to take care of your own health in between treatments administered by an acupuncturist or other practitioner. While you can hire a certified Forest Therapy Guide to teach you the nuances, you can also coach yourself in the local tree-lined walkway.
In essence, forest bathing is a walk in the woods. Many of us have been partaking of the benefits of the forest without naming it. We just knew that we felt better after we returned home. To get the most benefit from forest bathing, though, you walk slowly, pay attention, and breathe deeply to inhale the essence of nature. Of great value, according to adherents, are the essential oils exhaled (so to speak) by the trees. There are beneficial chemicals specific to each species. Walking through air saturated with a pine’s alpha-Pinene, for example, will reduce your own stress-causing chemicals.
Common enjoyment of a nature hike officially transitioned to forest bathing in Japan in the 1980s, where it is called shinrin-yoku, and is sanctioned by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Forest bathing is not about racking up your daily steps. Instead, adherents walk mindfully and pay attention to the details.
As an NPR reporter told listeners, she went forest bathing and tuned in “to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. We took in our surroundings by using all our senses.”
Advocates say that in addition to helping us relax, forest bathing will reduce blood pressure, improve mood and even quicken recovery from illness or surgery. Once a week is the recommended frequency for a forest bath, but a monthly dip conveys lasting benefits, too.
In our busy world, we all need to remember to slow down and enjoy our surroundings.