Did you know that the average American spends over 10 hours a day in front of a screen? That is almost half the day! (Nielsen). In startling comparison, we are spending on average about an hour or less outside; “We tend to be outside for about 5 percent of our day. And that includes, say, walking to the bus stop. It’s not quality time outside” (Wired). Think, as early humans and as we evolved, we “spent up to 99% of our time in natural environments” (Mind Body Green). Being in nature is a part of our DNA.
Human beings need nature. Aristotle touched on this and from there a biologist Edward Wilson developed the biophilia hypothesis. It states that, “humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life". He proposed the possibility that, "the deep affiliations humans have with other life forms and nature as a whole are rooted in our biology” (Wikipedia).
Increased adherence to city life and staying indoors, as well as furthered dependence on technology have kept us sedentary and tame.
Journalist and author, Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child in the Woods, revealed several studies confirming that less time spent outdoors and our lost connection to nature have resulted in “a wide range of behavioral problems”; In fact he, “coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder to better define the negative effects of being cut off from nature” (Mind Body Green).
Although Nature Deficit Disorder is not recognized in, “any of the medical manuals for mental disorders”, Louv believes that his work, “is not meant to be a medical diagnosis but rather to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from the natural world". Regardless, the scientific evidence and studies are compelling. Studies, “throughout the world suggest physical activity and exposure to nature are important to good health, report positive impacts upon mental health and wellbeing associated with natural environments, and can reduce sadness and negative emotions (Wikipedia). Nature in effect, “works on our brains” (Wired).
The Japanese seem to be attuned to this - in the 1980s, with the “hopes of improving the overall health of the country”, Japan developed a national public health program, Shinrin-Yoku, which can be translated to forest bathing (Well and Good); “Since the early eighties, researchers at the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture which coined the phrase) have been studying the practice for both its physical and psychological benefits. Forest bathing has been shown to boost both physical and mental health. It provides a wealth of benefits that range from strengthening one’s immunity to stress reduction. In fact, a small study showed that some trees release oils called phytoncides into the air, which may help to relieve stress” (Well and Good).
How to Forest Bathe
In essence, forest bathing is about “basking in nature, in greenery “. You will need to unplug, yes leave your earphones home, “true forest bathing requires the use of all five senses” (Mind Body Green). There is “No sweat, no trail running—simply contemplation between the trees. Shinrin yoku isn’t a brisk hike; it’s a slower-paced walk. It’s about observing and being aware of what is surrounding us” (Well and Good).
The 5 steps to forest bathing are rooted in our 5 senses. It is pure mindfulness and fully exercising the act of being present:
(The below is pulled from Mind Body Green)
...the trees, the plants growing under foot, the fungi, moss and lichen.
look up, down and all around for animals hiding under rocks, in burrows, and on tree branches. Notice the colors, shapes and textures.
...the rustling of leaves, the bird songs, or running water. Listen for the subtle sounds.
...the ground beneath your feet, the strength of tree trunks, the softness of leaves, or the prickliness of pine cones.
...the fresh air and the evergreens. Get close and smell the flowers.
...pine needle or gingko leaf tea. (Be sure to accurately identify any plant you are going to taste.)