Let na­ture re­new you

Prevention (Australia) - - In This Issue -

How to get more out of na­ture and re­duce stress

The world and all its busy­ness isn’t go­ing to stop, but head out­doors and im­merse your­self in a quiet, gen­tler ex­is­tence, you’ll re­duce stress and find your own per­sonal peace.

The Ja­panese have a name for it – shin­rin-yoku or ‘for­est bathing’. But it doesn’t in­volve get­ting wet, rather the idea is to fully im­merse your­self in your sur­round­ings – to bathe your senses. Ja­panese re­search shows that the ben­e­fits of for­est bathing in­clude a re­duc­tion in cor­ti­sol lev­els (which in­crease with stress), a slower heart rate, lower blood pres­sure, im­proved mood, in­creased self-es­teem and a greater sense of well­be­ing.

“Some­times de­scribed as the ‘un­hike’, a for­est ther­apy walk pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits of slow­ing down and en­joy­ing just be­ing in na­ture,” ex­plains Su­san Joachim, a cer­ti­fied for­est ther­apy guide who con­ducts guided walks through the Dan­de­nong Ranges and Mt Mace­don in Vic­to­ria.

“The key is not to cover a lot of miles, but to slowly walk with in­ten­tion through the green space and take it all in,” she ex­plains. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage our five senses – lis­ten­ing, touch­ing, smelling, tast­ing and notic­ing the plea­sure to just ‘be’ in na­ture.”

In Ja­pan, for­est bathing be­came part of its na­tional health pro­gram in 1982 and it now has for­est ther­apy trails in many of its park­lands. Ini­tially a way to re­con­nect with na­ture, sci­ence has now shown that trees and plants emit phy­ton­cides, or­ganic com­pounds that pro­tect them from harm­ful mi­crobes. Th­ese same com­pounds when breathed in can sup­port our own im­mune sys­tem.

Dr Suzanne Bartlett Hack­en­mil­lar, some­times pre­scribes for­est bathing to her pa­tients as a rem­edy for stress and anx­i­ety.

“We’re all seek­ing well­ness,” she says. “In western medicine we ap­proach it in con­vo­luted ways. What if it’s not that dif­fi­cult? It’s a deeply heal­ing prac­tice to slow down, ex­pe­ri­ence the senses, get out­doors and ex­plore.”

Key to step­ping into na­ture is to un­hook your­self from dis­trac­tions – and that means leav­ing your phone, fit­ness tracker and head­phones be­hind. “As the say­ing goes,”

Su­san re­calls. “‘There is no wifi in the for­est, but you will find a bet­ter con­nec­tion’.”

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