What is Forest Bathing?
‘Forest bathing’ or ‘shinrin-yoku’ in Japanese is a natural therapy using the assistance of a well-established forest to help us to relax, detox and to get relief from our overstimulated urban lifestyle.
It is not only beneficial to experience relief from symptoms that we may already have, such as the feeling of anxiety, stress and burnout but it is also extremely beneficial as a preventative treatment for a number of health conditions.
The concept of bathing in the forest originates from Japan with ties to ancient Buddhist practices. The term ‘shinrin-yoku’ means taking in the forest’s atmosphere with all of our senses.
The Japanese government invested USD $4 million into the exploration of potential health benefits of spending time in established forests as a preventative health initiative.
Their extensive studies have proved that natural environments promote better emotional and physiological wellbeing, quicker revitalisation and as a result, improved life quality.
Health benefits of forest bathing may include:
- Improved immunity
- Improved concentration and productivity
- Increased energy levels
- Improved mood
- Lowered blood sugar
- Lowered cortisol levels
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced muscle tension
- Improved sleeping habits
- Increased alpha brain wave activity
- Decreased urine adrenaline and noradrenaline concentrations
- Increased Natural Killer (NK) activity which decreases cancer cells generation and development
Today in Japan, there are shinrin-yoku trails designated by the government for the achievement of specific health benefits.
The savings achieved in other health care cost across the Japanese medical system as a result of using forest therapy gives grounds for the government to keep providing this service to their people.
Nature and Us
Deep affection towards nature is coded in our genes as we have biological, emotional and spiritual necessities to connect with our natural environment regularly for optimal health and wellbeing.
When you spend conscious time in natural surroundings by paying focused attention to what you see and hear, enjoying the birds singing and other natural soothing sounds, feeling the wind blowing on your skin, touching the trees and sensing the different textures and temperatures and breathing in the aroma of the foliage and flowers, you are present and aligning yourself with the natural flow of life.
This meditative-like practice not only takes you away from your regular way of being but it also gives you a break from thinking and from your busy mind.
“Forest bathing could be considered a form of medicine… And the benefits of nature can be accessed so simply.” Philip Barr, a physician at Duke University
It is important to understand forest bathing does not mean hiking, mountain biking or doing any sort of exercises in the forest. Rather it means spending mindful time around trees while soaking up what’s there through all of our senses.
For maximum benefits, ensure you leave your phone, camera or any other devices at home or in your car while you are bathing in the forest.
Terpenes of the Forest
In a book called “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness” by Dr Qing Li, the therapeutic benefits of the forest environment is mostly credited to phytoncides.
Phytoncides are also referred to as ‘the aroma of the forest’, which are basically essential oils and terpenes released by the trees and plants to communicate between each other and also to protect themselves from potential harms caused by insects, or other animals or even germs.
A number of studies carried out in South Korea have also reported a large range of health benefits achieved by the exposure to terpenes in the air in forest environments.
Researchers found that the most common organic compounds responsible for these positive effects found in a coniferous forest are d-limonene, α-pinene, β-pinene and camphene.
Different trees have different terpene profiles and the therapeutic benefits of their organic compounds can range from calming effects to better sleep cycles, from lowered blood pressure to stronger immunity just to mention a few.
The ‘Kneipp Therapy’ used in Germany is another natural therapy that utilises the healing effects of terpene-rich coniferous forests. Practitioners are required to carry out a specific exercise series in the forest environment which is proven to be significantly more beneficial compared to any other environment.
Forest Bathing with Cannabis
Cannabis just like coniferous trees is capable of producing a wide variety of terpenes and interestingly enough the most common terpenes in the forest atmosphere are the same that can be found in the cannabis plant accounting for the same or very similar health benefits.
The most prominent cannabis terpenes are myrcene, pinene, limonene, caryophyllene and linalool which are also produced and emitted by the trees in the forest.
The application of the whole plant cannabis thanks to the entourage effect of its numerous chemical compounds will surely provide you with a range of positive effects. You can find a lot of detailed articles on this site on how cannabis interacts with our endocannabinoid system and how it can help with different ailments.
While forest bathing also has its own ‘forest entourage effect’ not just through the organic compounds found in the forest atmosphere but through all the additional sensations that natural surroundings can provide you with.
These can include the clean and fresh air you breathe in, the different shades of colours and lights you can explore, the shooting sounds of a light breeze, birds or waterfall, experiencing the different matters and textures through the touch of your hand or barefoot and sensing the energy and wisdom of the trees surrounding you.
Now you can see cannabis and forest therapy both have tremendous therapeutic benefits on their own, however using them together can amplify their effects and can provide you with even more rejuvenation, relaxation and ultimately with a more invigorating experience.
While you give yourself over to the beauty and power of nature to do its magic with the aid of cannabis you can achieve a calmer, more open and balanced state through the activation of your endocannabinoid receptors.
As a result, you are able to connect to your body, emotions and senses a lot easier and you become more receptive to taking in what a beautiful forest environment has to offer you.
Treat yourself with nature’s gifts to enjoy a more balanced and happier life!
Have you ever tried forest bathing with or without cannabis before? I’d love to hear about your experiences, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
And if you are interested to find out more about the entourage effect and cannabis terpenes, Dr John Teh, Cannabinoid Clinician covers the topics in great details in the below videos: