Ever thought about ‘for­est bathing’? It’s not that weird

Manteca Bulletin - - Local -

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Imag­ine for a mo­ment you’ve been stuck in­side a build­ing all day with no op­por­tu­nity to walk out­side. When you fi­nally do leave the of­fice or school build­ing or wher­ever you’ve been cooped up for hours — think how much bet­ter you feel when that first blast of out­side air hits your face.

The fresh air doesn’t only feel good, it may also im­prove your over­all health. That’s a sim­ple way to de­scribe at least part of the the­ory be­hind some­thing known as “for­est bathing.”

No, it has noth­ing to do with a nice float in a pond in the woods — al­though for­est bathing can be just as re­lax­ing.

“The Ja­panese term for for­est bathing is shin­rin-yoku,” ex­plains au­thor and for­mer Louisville res­i­dent Sarah Ivens. “The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment spent mil­lions of dol­lars study­ing the phys­i­o­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of spend­ing time in na­ture and dis­cov­ered (for­est bathing) has many pos­i­tive ef­fects on your men­tal health and phys­i­cal well-be­ing.”

Fur­ther stud­ies in coun­tries such as Nor­way, Fin­land, Switzer­land, the United King­dom and the United States have come to sim­i­lar con­clu­sions. The United States’ Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion even says that “time out­doors may pro­mote men­tal health and stress re­duc­tion.”

In her new book, “For­est Ther­apy: Sea­sonal Ways to Em­brace Na­ture for a Hap­pier You,” Ivens, who got her doc­tor­ate at the Uni­ver­sity of Louisville, ex­plores the rea­sons why spend­ing time out­doors low­ers stress lev­els and anx­i­ety, im­proves cre­ativ­ity, plus boosts im­mu­nity and in­creases longevity.

“When my 7-year-old son comes home from spend­ing his day in school, we don’t sit down to do home­work un­til we’ve gone out­side for a pe­riod of time,” said Ivens. “It’s like walk­ing a puppy. We head to the walk­ing path be­hind our house and he can just spend time in the fresh air run­ning, jump­ing and play­ing. Chil­dren need to get out their en­ergy and they need to do it out­doors where things are green and they feel free.”

Ivens would like to see par­ents spend less time and money on or­ga­nized — and of­ten in­door — lessons and sports teams and more time set aside for their kids to play freely in na­ture.

“As par­ents, we have been con­di­tioned to be­lieve that what we need to give our chil­dren are more skills, like Man­darin lessons and bal­let classes,” she said, “but in fact when they are spend­ing time in na­ture our chil­dren be­come more so­cia­ble, they are more coura­geous and in­quis­i­tive — and guess what? It’s free!”

While re­search­ing her book, Ivens, who is also a for­mer Courier Jour­nal em­ployee, came across a tan­gi­ble rea­son that spend­ing time in na­ture is so ben­e­fi­cial. Turns out it’s not fresh air but in­stead su­per­charged air that helps us feel bet­ter. Re­ally. For­est air, she said, is rich with es­sen­tial oils which plants and trees emit to pro­tect them­selves from in­sects and germs. When grouped to­gether, these es­sen­tial oils are called phy­ton­cides and when hu­mans in­hale this for­est air, it ap­pears to im­prove the func­tion of our im­mune sys­tem.

A few of Ivens’ fa­vorite spots for for­est bathing in and around Louisville are Chero­kee Park, 745 Cochran Hill Road, Bern­heim For­est, 2075 Cler­mont Road, and Her­mitage Farm, 10500 W U.S. Highway 42 in Goshen.

So, are you out of luck if you don’t live or work near a for­est? Nope. Luck­ily it’s not just for­est air that pro­vides ben­e­fits.

“Stud­ies show that just tak­ing a walk in a city park or along a tree-lined street pro­duces many of the same ben­e­fits,” said Ivens. “It’s about get­ting out­doors with the spe­cific in­tent of con­nec­tion with na­ture in a heal­ing way, to open all the sense and dy­nam­i­cally in­ter­act with the land whether a city park or a coun­try for­est.”

There are other ad­van­tages to this out­door life­style. Un­like pricey gym mem­ber­ships or home gym equip­ment, for­est bathing, as we men­tioned be­fore, won’t cost you any­thing.

(OK, that’s not to­tally true. A de­cent pair of walk­ing shoes and a good wa­ter-re­sis­tant jacket with a hood will be help­ful.)

An­other plus to the prac­tice? You can sched­ule your out­door time into any part of your day and it’s al­ways avail­able — 365 days a year.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, there is just bad cloth­ing,” Ivens said. “Get out­side, walk through a snow drift, climb a tree. Did you bang your knee? Here’s a Band-Aid. Now, carry on.”

But hang on. What if it’s been so long since you de­lib­er­ately spent time out­doors with the in­tent of con­nect­ing with na­ture that you can’t re­mem­ber how to get started? Not a prob­lem. The book is full of sug­ges­tions that may seem sim­ple, but the truth is, we’re not go­ing on enough pic­nics, hang­ing out in a ham­mock, ob­serv­ing the sea­sonal changes in na­ture or hav­ing snow­balls fights in the win­ter.

So Ivens of­fers sug­ges­tions for chil­dren and adults. Not only for warm weather months but for ev­ery sea­son of the year, in­clud­ing win­ter.

“Ex­po­sure to cold weather will in­crease your en­ergy for hours af­ter­ward,” said Ivens. “Just a short walk out­side at lunchtime will keep your in­ner oil fires burn­ing through an af­ter­noon of work or par­ent­ing.”

For­est Ther­apy is also about en­hanc­ing your well-be­ing and re­la­tion­ships through the un­in­ter­rupted time you spend in na­ture in­ter­act­ing with your kids, your spouse and friends.

Of course, a lit­tle soli­tude can be a good thing now and again and Ivens ad­vo­cates for this type of self-care as well.

In her book Ivens writes, “Learn­ing to fit more na­ture into your life should not be a race or a chal­lenge. There isn’t a dis­tance marker you have to tick off, no pe­dome­ter to check, but the longer one de­votes to it, over time the more ben­e­fi­cial the relationship be­comes.”

Long be­fore you turn the fi­nal page of “For­est Ther­apy” you’ll find yourself won­der­ing why you didn’t fig­ure out this sim­ple so­lu­tion to so many of life’s lit­tle ail­ments a lot sooner.

Just re­mem­ber it’s never too late to step out the door and if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll end up bathed in na­ture’s restora­tive power, no mat­ter the sea­son or the weather.

“It’s about mak­ing this a pri­or­ity and cre­at­ing a habit that makes you feel so good that you don’t want to break it,” Ivens said.

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