Walking in the woods

Shinrin-yoku is the practice of walking slowly through the woods, in no hurry, for a morning, an afternoon, or a day.

Shinrin-yoku cannot treat disease, but it can have a preventative medical effect that makes falling ill less likely and can help reduce the strain on health services worldwide that stress-related illnesses cause each year.

Benefit of Shinrin-yoku

  • Improvement of weakened immunity, with an increase in the count of natural killer(NK) cells, which are known to fight tumors and infection
  • Increased relaxation of the body due to increased activity in the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Reduced stress of the body due to a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity.
  • Reduction in blood pressure after only 15 minutes of forest therapy.
  • Reduced feelings of stress and a general sense of well-being.
  • Reduction in blood pressure after 1 day of forest therapy which lasts up to 5 days after therapy.
  • The common cold
  • Back, neck and shoulder pain
  • Slower healing
  • Weight gain and loss
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Dysautonomia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcers and stomach problems
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer risk

WHO characterized a lifestyle as having four layers: comfort, efficiency, health, and safety. Masao Inui divided comfort into two types, naming them "passive comfort" and "active comfort".

Passive Comfort is based on so-called "deprivation needs" such as thermal regulation, and is a negative need that aims to eliminate discomfort. As a result, we can easily agree on what constitutes passive comfort because personal ideas and feelings are not involved.

Our research has shown that simply sitting and enjoying the view in a forest offers physiological relaxation, but so far there has been no research on the relaxation effects of practicing meditation and yoga in forests.

We found that contact with wood relaxes the brain and the body, so we hope in the future to clarify the relaxation effects that occur when coming into contact with trees during shinrin-yoku.

Research has shown that there is a correlation between the activities you enjoy and the physiological relaxation effects they provide. In other words, the more you are enjoying an activity, the greater its benefits will be.

The practice of shirin-yoku is based on walking through the forest at a gentle pace for two hours or more. Focus on your feet as they come into contact with the ground. Sense how every muscle in your body works together as you take one step followed by another.

Take in all the aromas of nature around you, the earth waking up in spring or leaves returning to soil in autumn. Listen to the sound of nature: the birds, the breeze through the trees, the rustle of leaves trodden underfoot. Touch the trees with all their textures, and feel the cool water of a stream. Hugging a tree will give you an immediate sense of connection to nature.

Meditation and mindfulness are excellent for calming the mind by bringing awareness and attention to the present moment. You don't need to empty your mind to enjoy the benefits of meditation, it is simply a case of observing the mind and bringing it back into awareness when you find it wandering off.

Stretching is an excellent, gentle way to get the body moving. By stretching mindfully you bring your awareness back into your body rather than concentrating on the thoughts in your mind, thereby encouraging your body back to its natural state. Other activities to try, chest opener, standing hip stretch, quad stretch, hamstring stretch, side bend, stargaze, spend time in a hammock.

Absorb the atmosphere of the forest while gazing at the stars, while carrying out these simple breathing exercises. Equal breathing - breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 then out through your nose for a count of 4. Breathe this way for 5 minutes. Abdominal Breathing - Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Breathe in through your nose into your abdomen until you feel your lungs expand, then gently breathe out through your nose. Continue the exercise for up to 10 minutes.

Children who spend regular time in nature on average experience an increase in self-confidence, problem-solving skills, motor skills, and the capacity to learn. Developing an early appreciation of nature sets up a positive relationship for life so that nature will continue to be a source of relaxation and connection throughout adulthood.

Nature is a wonderful place for journal writing and exploring how you are feeling. When you are in a relaxed state you can consider things with more perspective and open up to new ideas.

In our research, we found that the amount of wood used in a room can affect its relaxation benefits, and these benefits are linked to how much the subjects liked or felt comfortable in the room. So the message is, if you like it, it is probably benefitting you.

Houseplants don't just offer relaxation benefits in the home. it seems they also help to clean the air we breathe. The scientists found that potted houseplants can eliminate levels of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air. The effect might in part be due to the micro-organisms in the potting compost, but different types of plants had different levels of effect.

Experiment Park vs urban walk - we found that compared to walking in the urban area, walking in the park resulted in:

  • An increase in parasympathetic nerve activity (known to increase during relaxation)
  • A lower pulse rate
  • An increased feeling of comfort, calm, and accord with nature.

Experiment Ornamental plants - the result indicated a 13.5 percent increase in parasympathetic nerve activity and 5.6 percent suppression of sympathetic nerve activity while viewing the ornamental plants rather than the control.

Experiment Bonsai

  • A calming of prefrontal brain activity (oxygenated hemoglobin in the left prefrontal area)
  • An increase in activity in the parasympathetic nervous system( which increases during times of relaxation)
  • A decrease in activity in the sympathetic nervous system ( which increases during times of stress)
  • An increase in positive feelings.

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