FOREST BATHING AND OTHER THINGS

Shinrin-yoku.

Have you heard this term? For the past number of months it has been popping up all over the media-world in places as familiar as the CBC and ‘The Globe and Mail’ and as diverse as ‘National Geographic’, ‘Business Insider’, and ‘Vogue’. The term is Japanese and means “forest bathing.”It became popular in Japan beginning in the 1980’s to speak of the practice of intentionally unplugging from technology and going outside to a green space for a few hours at a time. Dr. Qing Li is the Chair of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine (yes, this is a real scientific society and evidence of the influence this idea has had in Japanese culture as a whole). In his recent book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, he lays out the findings of their research. He points to the scientific evidence that demonstrates how “forest bathing” decreases stress levels, heart rate, and  blood pressure. Likewise, he shows how it levels moods by decreasing anger and rates of depression while elevating our senses of joy and calm. Furthermore, “forest bathing” is linked to 30% increases in energy levels, 15% increases in sleep quality, as well as increases in our immune systems and cardiovascular health among other benefits. While they debate about the reasons for this – Is it the increased exposure to sunlight and less polluted air? Is it the natural aromatherapy from exposure to phytoncides found in plants and trees or to the bacteria, minerals, and microorganisms found in soil? – the results seem pretty clear: getting outside and connecting with nature is good for us.

Of course this probably shouldn’t surprise us as Canadians. While we don’t have quite such “boutique” language for this sort of experience, we have do have plenty of words of our own that we use. We use words like “going for a walk” or “getting outdoors” or “gardening” or taking part in what is for many the annual ritual called “camping.” Many of us experience the benefits of this sort of lifestyle so the results shouldn’t surprise us.

Moreover, this probably shouldn’t surprise us as Christians either. As Christians we believe that we were not created apart from the world or that the natural world is some sort of mess that we need to fix, escape, or be protected from. Instead, we believe we were made as part of and for the world. We believe that we are creatures, that is creations who are part of this world. And as creatures, it is really so surprising that we often feel at our best when we are connected to creation? Is it really surprising that it would be written in our DNA?

So with the summer months here, I hope you are able to take advantage of the warm weather and get out and replace some of your screen time with green time. Maybe it will give you the chance to understand in a new way what we are saying when we declare, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”                -Joe Welty

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