Forest Bathing: Readjusting our Minds in a Post Covid Age | Teen Ink

Forest Bathing: Readjusting our Minds in a Post Covid Age

May 18, 2023
By Anonymous

To those searching to reconnect with nature, ¨step outside your door and come to your senses.¨ says Dr. Mattie Decker, a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide. During the Covid lockdown, the idea of being alone developed a connotation of isolation and helplessness as individuals struggled to handle the sudden social disconnect. Now, people who “forest-bathe” shift their perspective on being alone to feel interconnected with nature in ecosystems that captivate visitors yet allow passive recognition of each element and are rewarded with not only mental but physical healing.

Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, is a term coined by the Japanese Bureau of Fishing and Wildlife Management in 1982 that expresses experiencing the forest atmosphere. Unlike recreational activities such as trail-running, mountain biking, or rock climbing which are done in nature but require more focus on movement and action, forest bathing puts a unique emphasis on mindfulness. Some forest bathers do yoga or take leisurely strolls and go to great lengths to view natural wonders, but all it requires is being present with nature. By opening your five senses to your surroundings, you discover a network of smells, sights, feelings, and tastes from complex interconnected layers of life. Essentially, you unlock a “sixth sense,” an interconnected state of mind. Realizing that life surrounds you, you liberate yourself of the individuality of isolation and embrace an interdependent ecosystem.

Of course, romanticizing our relationship with nature is nothing new. Natural alternative healing is recognized as a way to cultivate a healthy spirit, but many underestimate the actual physical benefits of being in nature. Activities like yoga that move your body can be done in nature, but being physically active isn’t the only advantage. In 2010, a Japanese research team sought to clarify the physiological effects of forest bathing in 24 forests across Japan and discovered that walking in forests for ten to twenty minutes led to a decrease in stress-related hormones.  Another study in 2007 held in the Nagano prefecture found that a three-day forest bathing trip raised the amount of various immune cells, especially NK cells which are crucial to fighting cancer, by 50%. Through these expirements, natural healing went beyond the realm of hippie, witchie nonsense, into tangible scientific evidence. 

A natural environment is ideal, but not essential for forest bathing. Every unique forest has it´s own special factors. The distinctive Japanese forests´ environments were factors in these experiments, but flying to Japan is not necessary for a forest bathing experience. I often camp in Joshua Tree and while I appreciate the unique parts of the setting, I find the sunsets from my kitchen window are just as beautiful. Forest bathing is possible anywhere nature is present.

Overreaching to find the perfect spot can often be destructive. Natural destinations that garner popularity and become tourist destinations often become overcrowded and overwhelmed with people who are sensationalized by the idea of being outdoors but do not take the time to appreciate where they are. With the growing popularity of forest bathing, it is important to not lose sight of the mindfulness aspect. Nature is present even in the densest cities, in parkways, and in our front lawns. Being mindful of nature means recognizing the nature closest to you. Deepening our connection with nature requires cultivating a healthy relationship that respects every part of it, even what’s right outside your door.

The author's comments:

My entire AP English Lang class wrote submissions for the nyt stem contest, so our teacher took time in class to guide us through the writing process. First, we made lists of topics that might interest before narrowing down our choice. A common theme in my list was nature, but I struggled to decide on a topic. My teacher suggested Forest Bathing and its connection to opening up post-covid. I had never heard of it before, but it seemed interesting. I, honestly, am very skeptical about things like natural healing even though I enjoy camping and other outdoor activities. I usually consider it to be kind of hippy-witchy fanciful nonsense so I was mostly curious to see where my research would take me. I took a few minutes to look up forest bathing and get a grasp on the definition before writing my thesis. I did some more in-depth research after writing my thesis but procrastinated for a few days after, so it took a while to remember what my article’s message was when I started writing again. My thesis would change slightly as I developed my article. I mostly just jumped around through different sections till I was done. I finished my first draft the day before the submission deadline and did not get a chance for too much revising, although I reached out to some of my friends for help editing my article.

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