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Nature Cleanse

Drown your stresses in a forest bath

By Robert Beauchamps

Rinse off daily stress with a forest bath? Sounds like some sort of hippy dippy jibber jabber. It’s not. Forest bathing is a loose translation for the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku. Mental and physical wellbeing are achieved by completely immersing oneself in nature. The Japanese take this kind of forest therapy quite seriously. So much so, that it’s covered by medical insurance.

Quebec might not be at that point yet. But Natural Resources Canada estimates that the province is home to nearly 400 million hectares of woodlands. Most of those hectares are ours to explore, free of charge.

University of Michigan psychologist Marc Berman believes that nature can restore brainpower. Mr. Berman says that the urbanite brain is constantly drained due to a kind of data processing: traffic, noises, flashing lights, construction, et cetera. “Interacting with nature shifts the mind to a more relaxed and passive mode, allowing the more analytical powers to restore themselves,” he says.

Several Japanese studies report that shinrin-yoku not only lowers stress hormones, it lowers pulse rate and blood pressure, while boosting nervous system function. Said benefits were observed in study participants after just one episode of forest bathing, which included a 15-minute walk plus 15 minutes of quiet contemplation amongst the trees.

Researchers at Stanford University had participants do a memory test before and after either a nature walk or a stroll through city streets. Those who walked in nature improved their performance on the second memory test, whereas the urban walkers showed no improvement.

Many scientists believe that by 2050, nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population will be urban. With humanity’s so-called progress comes a demand for more housing. More housing means more malls, factories, and roads to connect them all. If a meadow needs to be paved over in the name of progress, so be it.

Montrealers are lucky. Most of us are within walking distance of a park. The mountain is still awash with trees. And an extended bike ride will get you even deeper in the woods. Make the most out of your forest bathing experience with these tips:

  • Shinrin-yoku is about your bond with nature. It is not about getting somewhere, achieving a goal, or seeking out the perfect selfie. Make it about low-impact meandering and quiet observation.
  • Take in your surroundings with all your senses. Listen for birds and insects, smell the soil, touch the bark of a tree.
  • Pack a field guide. Learn more about the flora and fauna around you.
  • Challenge yourself to walk through a known garden path or wooded trail as slowly as possible. Take a second to note how you feel going in. When you’re done, think about how you feel. Any difference?
  • Whether you’re walking, sitting or standing, your mind can wander. That can be a good thing. But if household chores, tax season or soccer scores enter your mind, simply switch your attention to the bottoms of your feet. It works. Focus on the feet: Where are they? What’s under them? Where are they going?

 

Spring 2018, Vol 10 N°2

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