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Credit: Nitin Das
According to the World Health Organization, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st century and is responsible for many forms of chronic illness. In the 1980’s, Japan recognized the physiological and psychological dangers of stress and sought out a new way to combat it. This was the beginning of Shinrin Yoku, roughly translated as ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ Witnessing the high-stress environment of LA, Shinrin Yoku LA founder, Ben Page, became a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy in 2015, and set to work bringing Shinrin Yoku to the people.
So what exactly is Shinrin Yoku? While there are many ways, our practice is more than just spending time in the woods. On your walk, a certified guide will assist you in slowing down, relaxing, reconnecting with nature, awakening your senses, and being present. Through a series of invitations, you will find complete freedom of self-expression while deepening your awareness of the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and tactile sensations that become your relationship with the forest. Imagine running your fingers through a waterfall, or the sound of a chorus of birds, or the smell of California bay laurel in the air. It is through the simple act of noticing where we are that we become present to ourselves once again.
Grounded in over 30 years of scientific research, Shinrin Yoku has demonstrated that time spent in nature can mitigate the impact of stress on the human body and can even improve health functions. Studies show that Shinrin Yoku is a natural antidepressant, boosts immune function, and even increases your creativity and mental functions! That’s right, time in nature makes you happier, healthier, and smarter!
Shinrin Yoku LA is deeply committed to fostering reciprocity between humans and the natural world. For every walk you attend, Shinrin Yoku LA will donate $1 to the National Forest Foundation so that a tree may be planted. Consider that each time you come on a walk, both and you and the forest become healthier. This mutually beneficial relationship is the pathway towards a greener world, for us and for generations to come.
Hear me talk a bit about the benefits of forest bathing on a Sirius XM interview.
“In essence, Shinrin-yoku is a guided experience that facilitates slowing people down and awakening their senses in a natural setting,” Page says. “When this happens, people tend to connect with nature in a personal, meaningful and rejuvenating way.”
Soon I realize the utility of having Page with me. I don’t know how to calm down, even in an environment as naturally tranquil as the woods. Whereas a hike’s purpose is to reach a destination, a Shinrin Yoku teaches participants how to slow down. Like a guided meditation, it gives people instructions on how to relax.
But forest bathing, as Page notes, isn’t solely about the health benefits—it also promotes conservation of the natural world.
“Sometimes when people come into the practice for the first time, they think, ‘I want to be healthy,’” he says. “It’s interesting to see the growth and awareness how our health is in balance with the health of nature. If nature isn’t healthy, we aren’t healthy.” Page further promotes this belief by donating a dollar to the National Forest Foundation for every person he guides, to plant one tree.
Research shows spending QT with foliage in a state of heightened awareness—versus just blindly traipsing through it—can slay stress, nix negative thoughts, and fortify the immune system, thanks to phytoncides, antimicrobial essential oils found specifically in trees. Mindfully wandering around in the woods to feel healthy again? I’d try that.
As with yoga, forest bathers can opt for a DIY approach. But certified guides come with benefits: They ensure the experience is consistent, for instance, and are adept at helping walkers to focus on their senses as well as the sights and sounds and smells that stimulate them.
“I think about where yoga was 30 years ago and where it is today, and I realize that forest therapy is making the same journey toward cultural definition in a way that will mainstream the practice,” said Ben Page, a certified forest therapy guide who founded Shinrin Yoku Los Angeles.
Forest bathers, when compared to their urban counterparts, exhibit lower blood pressure, heart rate, and concentrations of the stress-hormone salivary cortisol, according to a 2010 study spanning 24 Japanese forests
“When we visit a natural area and walk through it in a relaxed and mindful way, there are rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved…”