The Japanese have uncovered the secret to a healthy mind and body. The prescription is simple: take a couple of hours a week to mindfully walk around a forest. The medicine is also known as Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing. The benefits include lower levels of cortisol, reduced blood pressure and a stronger immune system—thanks to trees’ release of a chemical known as Phytoncides.
Encouraged since the 1980s it is now a largely researched therapy to quell anxiety, stress and prevent illnesses such as strokes, cancers and ulcers. Its success has gained it an official prescription in the nation’s health programme, including a Society for Forest Medicine. Current President Dr. Qing Li describes the strategy as a way to “prevent disease” rather than treat it.
Recently the therapy has taken roots in the UK, where The Forest Bathing Institute has partnered with the NHS and UK universities encouraging English GPs to advocate this method to patients, whilst organising forest retreats and conservation efforts.
In short we’ve created a modern society that has forgotten its natural origins, whilst urbanisation has evolved us into indoor creatures —it is estimated that Americans spend 90% of their time indoors— constantly exposed to stressors in over-stimulant cities. Studies into shinrin-yoku show that even just 20 minutes of unencumbered time in nature can radically improve mental wellbeing.
Forest bathing’s success shouldn’t be heralded as a medicinal revelation, rather as a testament to a system that promotes an unhealthy and unhappy lifestyle. Wouldn’t we all be better off under the canopy trees whilst listening to the whispers of the wind? So why can’t our future be greener and our minds clearer?