With International Women’s Day only two weeks away, and Facebook’s algorithm being very astute about my gender, I naturally stumbled upon the theme for International Women’s Day 2019 – Balance for Better.
This year’s theme is all about building a gender-balanced world. After all, ‘balance drives a better working world. Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage…’ The list is endless and I couldn’t agree more that #BalanceforBetter is much needed in our communities.
Honestly, I think balance is also an internal goal for women – because we are constantly doing the ‘balancing act’ between the various roles we play – be it mother, daughter, wife, sister, daughter-in-law on the personal front; and executive, teacher, entrepreneur, artist, sportsman and more on the professional; we need to pull it off every single day of our lives.
This much of balancing in our daily life needs the equal amount of healing for our body, mind and soul. It’s important that we women also learn to switch off from our daily responsibilities, take some quiet time off to rejuvenate and relax. Having said that, we think ‘time out’ also applies to men who are caught up with their equally hectic lives. And we have the perfect solution to offer – Go Forest Bathing!
What is Forest Bathing?
No, it’s not about going for a ‘bath’ in the forest, so don’t start mentally preparing yourself to take off your clothes just yet!
Dr. Quing Li, one of the world’s foremost experts on forest medicine and author of book ‘Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness‘ explains it very simply in this excerpt from his book: ‘This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Indoors, we tend to use only two senses, our eyes and our ears. Outside is where we can smell the flowers, taste the fresh air, look at the changing colours of the trees, hear the birds singing and feel the breeze on our skin. And when we open up our senses, we begin to connect to the natural world.’
And no, you don’t need to necessarily go find a forest – the idea is to spend time amidst Nature wherever it is accessible to you, be it a park, a garden or even your little backyard with just one tree. The emphasis is on slowing down from our fast paced lives and allowing our senses to experience Nature that surrounds us like never before.
Shinrin-Yoku – The Origin of Forest Bathing
In the olden and probably more ‘conscious’ times, man and nature co-existed as they were very much dependent on each other. Nature provided Man and Man nurtured Nature – a relationship that seems to have gotten lost somewhere over the years. So, Nature’s healing powers are not something new to us.
Shinrin-Yoku is the Japanese word for ‘Forest bathing’ – the place where this therapy originated. In 1982, the Japanese government started an experimental program to help their citizens get back to nature, thereby promoting health and conservation. With research and further studies, today there are nearly 62 designated forest bathing spots in Japan — many within dense cities — used by up to 5 million people a year.
This healing practice has already spread across the globe with more and more people opting for ‘a walk in the woods.’
Benefits of Forest Bathing
Try this experiment – Just watch this forest bathing video below and see how you feel? Does it make you feel better, happier, more relaxed?
At some point or other, we have all experienced the beneficial effects of Nature on us; it could be consciously or subconsciously. Like an evening spent at the park makes us feel so fresh; a long walk with your dog makes you feel more relaxed than tired; even during lunch break, when we sit in the courtyard under a tree, it makes us feel much more relaxed than eating lunch at our desks. Now imagine, if we allowed ourselves to experience this in a conscious way; we opened our senses and let Nature flow in – the benefits would truly be amazing!
There has been a lot of scientific research that has been done to actually find out if Forest Bathing is beneficial or not and how it helps us. In fact, there are studies that have concluded that there is reduced risk of chronic illnesses among those who spend a significant amount of time in green spaces.
In his book, Dr. Qing Li lists the following as benefits of Forest Bathing –
- Reduces blood pressure
- Lowers stress
- Improves cardiovascular and metabolic health
- Lowers blood-sugar levels
- Improves concentration and memory
- Lifts depression
- Improves pain thresholds
- Improves energy
- Boosts the immune system with an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells
- Increases anti-cancer protein production
- Helps in weight loss
Yes, it is definitely a WOW moment! These many benefits from spending just two hours daily or maybe a few days getaway to green spaces – it’s impressive. About time one prescribed to this medication that is so easily accessible to us and costs us nothing.
Phytoncide – The ‘Magical’ Ingredient
While just getting some kind of physical activity outdoors and switching off from our electronic lives, helps improve our health significantly; there are these tiny antimicrobial elements that the plants emit that seem to help us.
Phyntoncide is a substance emitted by trees and plants to protect themselves from harmful insects and bacteria. When we spend time among trees, we breathe in these phytoncides and they help improve our immunity.
Forest Bathing – How to do it?
There are many guided forest bathing therapy sessions that one can sign up for. Sometimes, we may need help of a trained person who can help us unplug ourselves from the daily stress and help us experience these walks in a better and more fulfilling way.
Having said that, you may want to try and do it on your own – That works too! Adapted from this article, here are a few steps to help you in forest bathing.
Find a spot. Look for a green space that is easily accessible to you. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to always be a forested area; it could be a park, botanical gardens, a nature trail or your own little backyard. Allow yourself to wander in this area, let your body guide you in which direction to move.
Engage all your sense. Allow yourself to experience nature by activating all your senses. Open your eyes and look around; listen to the sounds, breathe in the scent of the forest, touch the leaves, walk barefoot on grass; you can even taste any edible plants around.
Don’t Hurry. This is a slow process, so take your time. If needed, set aside some time in your daily schedule to relax.
Try Different Activities. You can do various activities in the open – do yoga or meditation, go for a walk or run, read a book sitting under a tree, go for a picnic. You can go alone or have company. Do what makes you happy and do it in the open!
Appreciate the Silence. It may be difficult to find a quiet spot in the city but if you do manage to find one, enjoy the ‘sound of silence’. Nature’s sounds have their own healing power – the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, a stream gurgling…
Connecting to Nature is easy according to Dr. Qing Li, “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.”
Take the first step – Appreciate Nature
According to the United Nations, around 58% of the world’s population lives in cities today and it is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Yes, we need space to build homes for all these people but at the same time we need to save space to create green pockets within our cities.
Many countries are waking up to the benefits of having these open green spaces and are ensuring that their citizens are able to access these spaces to be healthy and well. It is vital that we realise the importance of our forests and parks sooner than later – the rate at which urbanisation is taking place we don’t want it to be too late.
I truly believe that appreciation of something is always the first step in the process of protecting and preserving it. Spend some time forest bathing; if nature helps you then it will be your turn to help protect it!