forest path

In the last column we learned about grounding, and today we’ll look at another one of Mother Nature’s therapies called “forest bathing,” or Shinrin-yoku. Not to be confused with Naked Gardening Day on Saturday, forest bathing has nothing to do with traditional bathing.

Alan Watts reminds us, “You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Unfortunately, many people today have lost touch with the natural world and their origins — and often their health suffers because of this. So many of us settle for electronic screens, offices and homes with recirculated air pumping out of our heating and cooling units and dull artificial lighting. We can do better!

The trees will soon be full and green in our area of the country and it will be the perfect time to try forest bathing — preferably on a regular basis. It’s not at all challenging. It costs nothing, requires no special equipment or skills, can take as little or as much time as is available, and can be done any time of the day — or night, if you prefer. The concept is quite simple: Visit a natural area like Petrifying Springs or Hawthorn Hollow and walk calmly in order to discover the relaxing, restorative and rejuvenating benefits. In nature, we can proactively reset our stress buttons!

Humans intuitively know this; we know that nature is good for us. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to spent time in tropical greenhouses know how those negative ions produced by the plants improve our overall well-being, especially in the middle of a cold Wisconsin winter. (I highly recommend it!) Greenhouses are wonderful things, but there’s nothing to be compared to being outdoors in our natural world.

Some of the scientifically-proven benefits of forest bathing are:

• Reduced blood pressure

• Reduced anxiety

• Improved mood

• Better sleep

• Increased energy levels

• Better immune function

One of the ways forest bathing improves our immune function has been in the news recently. Scientists have discovered that trees give off organic compounds that support our natural killer (NK) cells that strengthen and support our immune system’s ability to fight off cancers.

Excessive walking isn’t actually necessary, either. You can walk slowly to a favorite place in the woods, have a seat, take off your shoes and practice some grounding while you’re there. Then, simply BE.

Breathe deeply, open all your senses and be mindful of your surroundings and leave the cares of the day behind for a time. That’s all there is to it. Mother Nature’s medicine and healing are waiting for us in the forest.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” — John Muir

Rae Punzel is a Kenosha writer and horticulturalist. She owns Bennu Organics, a horticulture services and consulting business. Contact her at bennuorganics@gmail.com.

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