Written by: Christapher Cogswell, HALOLIFE Chief Innovation Officer
As we celebrate another Earth Day, it’s time to celebrate the beauty and healing power of our forests. I was lucky enough to grow up in the deep north woods of Wisconsin, and developed a profound love for the trees, and the recent avalanche of scientific information about the health benefits of spending time in the forest - called Forest Bathing in Japan - took me completely by surprise.
One of the great things about living in the Bay Area of northern California as I do now, is that you are never far from the forest. In 30-60 minutes from pretty much any town or city you can be in a spectacular grove of redwoods, pines, or oaks. One of my favorite hikes is in the redwood-covered mountains south of San Francisco with views of the Pacific ocean on one side, and Silicon Valley on the other. It’s a magical hike that offers breathtaking vistas toward the crescent beach of Half Moon Bay and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean as you walk through a variety of ecological zones on your descent.
HOW DOES FOREST BATHING WORK?
Whatever our mental/emotional state is when my wife and I start this walk, including any friends along for the hike, we all inevitably find ourselves relaxing, centering, minds quieting, and moods improving as we walk and take in not just the extreme beauty, but, as science is revealing, also a spectrum of mood- and health-altering compounds from the trees that saturate the air around us. This extraordinary experience happens every single time we walk here, and now science is explaining the reasons for this.
It turns out that trees emanate a variety of feel-good chemicals which affect us deeply, and quite physiologically. Antimicrobial essential oils, called phytoncides, as well as terpenes, pinenes, limonenes and other substances rain down on us so abundantly that the term “forest bathing” is quite apt.
One practice allowing us to maximize the forest bathing experience is “forest breathing” - which is taking a series of deep conscious breaths, overcoming our tendency toward shallow breathing, and drawing the many compounds swirling around us deep into our lungs.
HOW TO PRACTICE "FOREST BREATHING"
- Breathe in slowly to a count of eight, expanding your belly and diaphragm.
- Hold for a count of five, and then exhale for a count of ten.
- Repeat five times and see if you are not smiling by the end!
According to Dr. Qing Li, author of “The Japanese Art and Science of Shinrin-Yoku: Forest Bathing; How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness” there is an abundance of data demonstrating the power of this practice to lower stress, improve energy, boost the immune system, promote weight loss, and lower blood pressure, among other benefits. It’s truly amazing!
So this Earth Day and beyond, get out and enjoy the healing benefits of our forests!