Forest bathing, what are forest baths and why they are good for you

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Have you ever wondered why, after walking in nature, you feel better? The Japanese, superstressed people but with beautiful forests, have already studied the phenomenon in the Eighties, demonstrating the therapeutic virtues of the woods. So they began to prescribe hiking as a prevention and cure for the effects of stress. Is called shinrin-yokuliterally “forest-bathroom” and is a therapy recognized by the health services of many Asian countries (Japan, South Korea and China, to name the largest).

The numerous scientific researches conducted over the years have demonstrated its effectiveness in countering the technostress that afflicts those who work in an urban environment with a high rate of digitization. In short, it is aimed at us. People who stay all day with smartphones in hand, tinkering with tablets and screens with a high rate of blue light. And nature sees little and badly. According to the researchers, the consequences of this type of life lead to imbalances in the nervous and immune systems.

«From numerous scientific evidences it emerges that contact with nature is a precious resource for rebalancing the autonomic nervous system, improving mood and strengthening the immune defenses. There forest therapy it can therefore prove useful in neuropsychology and rehabilitation medicine ”, he explains Tania Reclinical psychologist, anthropologist specializing in health anthropology and ethnomedicine, as well as a founding member of the Unesco chair “Health, Anthropology, Biosphere and systems of care” at the University of Genoa.

We human beings are predisposed to make use of the support offered by plants: according to the biologist Edward Osborne Wilson we are “biophiles”, attracted by the life and beauty of nature precisely because it preserves us and helps us to live better.

The forest as an antidote to stress

Just looking at the trees and the light in the leaves is a source of well-being. “According to scholars, it regulates blood pressure and heartbeat in a measurable way. It would even be enough observe an image of a forest on a screen for 90 seconds to get the first psychophysical benefits. Furthermore, touch the trees, feeling the contact of the palm of the hand with the trunks, leads to a detectable relaxation in neurophysiological terms. Breathing in the forest, then, allows you to inhale volatile substances that induce well-being and activate the immune system ”, underlines Tania Re.

This is why it is called “forest bath”: you immerse yourself in being enveloped by scents, colors and tactile sensations. The five senses are the key to fully enjoy it.

The slow rhythms of nature

But what exactly does shinrin-yoku consist of? It is a short walk in the woods that does not include particular activities: it is not sport, it is not trekkingthere are no results to be achieved.

‘Leading the forest bath are the girls 5 S (slow-down, safety, sense, silence and share), slow down, move safely, activate the senses, practice silence and sharing », explains Ann Tilman, certified Forest therapy guide with a long experience. For this reason, at least the first few times, the support of a guide is recommended. When you are alone, in fact, you cannot “switch off” and the glance at the smartphone is lurking, as is the tendency to walk in a hurry, without really letting yourself be taken by the wonder of the natural environment, with its beneficial effects.

«Our function is to facilitate the process, to open the doors so that everyone connects to nature alone. So we don’t give information or teachings, just suggestions that you are free to accept or not, ”says Tilman.

An experience to share

In short, the guide does not say what to do, he is not a teacher. From her (or from him) you receive open “invitations”, how to get to know the place, each on their own: there are those who smell a flower, those who caress the leaves, those who observe insects on the trunk of a tree, those who listen to the rustle of branches and the song of birds.

The forest bathroom works well in groups, small or large that they are, because it allows the sharing of impressions, thoughts, as the exploration proceeds. However, it is necessary that all this, at least the first few times, is regulated by the guide, otherwise we end up chatting and goodbye connection with the forest. Another invitation is to perceive the movements: the wind blowing on the grass, the butterfly flying in front of us, the water of a flowing stream.

“In this way we also focus on what is on different planes of the horizon and not just what we have in front of us, as we do with the smartphone,” remarked Ann Tilman. To feel part of the forest, no special equipment is required and not even workouts to do. Just a little consistency and comfortable clothing, suitable for the season and the chosen location. In fact, it involves walking for a total of at least two hours a week, which can be divided into several moments. Below we offer you three types of forest baths in different areas of Italy.

Wellness to breathe

The health benefits of forest bathing have been demonstrated by countless scientific researches, as explained by Tania Re, clinical psychologist, anthropologist specialized in health anthropology and ethnomedicine: “It is established that plants and forest soil emit biogenic volatile organic compounds ( BVOC) with beneficial properties on humans, with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating effects. Each molecule emitted, if inhaled, produces effects on our health e terpenes, released from conifers, are the most effective. These are very light molecules which, easily crossing the blood-brain barrier, reach the central nervous system generating positive psychophysical effects, with a recognized clinical value ».