The forest bath or sylvotherapy is a practice still little known, but surprising. Hearing this term, a hippie hugging trees may be the first image that comes to mind. However, it is more than that. Indeed, this discipline is recognized in Japan as a relaxation technique in its own right. It is also one of the cornerstones of preventive medicine policy. This method has been used for centuries in Japanese culture to reconnect with the powerful and healing energy of trees. Having been forgotten over the past few years with the arrival of industrialization and urbanization, forest bathing is once again a vital practice to reduce stress.while improving overall health and well-being. Likewise, silvotherapy is gradually spreading in Europe and the United States.
Forest bath: some explanations
“Sylvotherapy” originates from the Latin word “silva” which means wood or forest. In Japan, the term “ shinrin yoku ” is used instead . Thus, the forest bath refers to a practice which consists in improving the state of health of the body and the spirit by the simple contact with the energy of the trees. This therapeutic approach brings better relaxation thanks to the link established with the energetic vibrations emitted by plants. Although it has been running for decades, it was not until the 1990s that it became the subject of scientific research.
These studies have shown that spending 40 minutes in the forest in the morning and afternoon allowed subjects to reduce stress, tension, anxiety and fatigue. This also causes a drop in salivary cortisol and various other stress hormones. Other studies then supplemented this research showing that the virtues of the forest bath also include the decrease in blood sugar in certain diabetics. The same is true for certain positive physiological effects, including an increase in the level of NK lymphocytes (innate immunity cells) and immunoglobulin G, A and M in the blood of adepts.
How can the forest bath help?
The simple fact of getting green and walking in the forest activates four senses:
Hearing: the song of birds, the whistling of the wind;
Smell: the freshness of the air, the scent of wood;
The view: all shades of color and
Touch: trees, leaves, mosses.
All of this encourages presence of mind and provides an immediate feeling of calm . Likewise, breathing oxygen-rich air, impregnated with natural essential oils , promotes the health of the respiratory and circulatory system. This is also why the forest bath immediately reduces blood pressure and the level of stress hormones in the body. The focus is not on anything, but rather on absorbing the healing properties of trees and “being” in a space conducive to peace and quiet.
However, this is not about hiking. Nor is it a naturalistic walk filled with facts and data, or psychological therapy, or even a mindfulness exercise. Rather, it is a moment of meditation and deep muscle relaxation to slow down and take possession of what is around. The senses are fully activated to let you fall into a state of “being in balance”. Time spent in nature also increases creativity and focus. This is why the forest bath is a super powerful remedy for alleviating generalized anxiety and depression.. Thus, the forest is therefore the best therapist you can find since nature provides the medicines that each of us needs. In addition, the positive effects last for several days.
Simple steps to practice the forest bath
There are 44 forests accredited to practice shinrin yoku in Japan. In Europe, this is not yet the case. However, you don’t need to go to the end of the world to benefit from the virtues of forest bathing. Neither forest nor wood near you? No problem ! You can simply go to a park. Then follow this little guide.
Turn off your phone, camera, and all other distractions to give yourself the best chance to relax. At the same time, you get rid of stress hormones. It will also allow you to be aware and have a full sensory experience .
Move slowly through the forest to fully enjoy it.
Take long , relaxing breaths to send a message to the body that it can relax.
Stop for a moment and feel what is around you.
Take ownership of your surroundings using all of your senses. Be all eyes and ears, look at the little details.
Sit quietly, watching carefully. Try to avoid thinking about issues related to everyday life. Set them aside for your forest bath.
Keep your eyes open. Nature’s colors are calming, and studies have even shown that people relax better when looking at shades of green and blue. So, take the opportunity to reduce the stress that constantly threatens you.
Stay as long as you can. Start with a comfortable time limit. You will be able to extend the time over time until you reach the recommended two hours for a full shinrin yoku experience.
Is it always essential to hug the trees?
As you will probably have noticed, the answer is NO. Simple contact with nature is enough. This can be done by touching trees or walking barefoot. You will be able to take advantage of the electromagnetic exchanges and of the mycobacterium vaccae which is found in the soil. This non-pathogenic bacteria activates the brain and induces the production of serotonin – a hormone involved in the regulation of mood, libido, social behavior and sleep. It also leads to the production of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that provides a feeling of happiness and satisfaction.
However, keep in mind that the benefits that can be derived from sylvotherapy depend on the type of forest you choose. If you take a walk through a coniferous forest, you will feel energized, because pines and firs give energy. While a deciduous forest will be more soothing and relax your body.