‘Forest Bathing’: Harness Nature to Boost Health

“It’s like a fast track to a healing process.”

(KATHLEEN DOHENY, WebMD) On a recent morning in late July, Ben Page leads six hikers about a quarter-mile into the Angeles National Forest about an hour north of Los Angeles. As they walk on winding paths under maple trees and past bubbling streams, he asks them to gather in a circle, stand, and notice the sights, sounds, and smells surrounding them.

PHOTO: Brian Uhreen, Creative Commons

Picking up a stick — nature’s microphone for the day — Page asks who would like to share any thoughts on the experience.

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Lilly Urban, a Los Angeles television editor, takes the stick. She tells the others how rapidly her mood has changed from the time she left her L.A. home that morning, traveling busy freeways to arrive on time.

“Nature is forgiving and welcoming,” she tells the group. “It always changes your mood, in a positive way.”

A Decades-Old Tradition

Urban was taking part in a decades-old Japanese tradition that is catching on in the U.S. called “forest bathing.” Known as shinrin-yoku, it literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Researchers, mostly from Japan and Korea, have shown that the practice can lead to impressive health benefits, not only lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but also lowering blood pressure and boosting your immune system.

“It’s like a fast track to a healing process,” says Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist and integrative medicine specialist at Van Diest Medical Center in Webster City, Iowa. She is medical director for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and is training to be a forest guide.

Amos Clifford founded the association and started training guides in 2014. He says about 15 guides finished the initial training. Now, he has trained and certified about 270 guides, including the 190 in the U.S. Guides in the U.S. are most often found in California and the Midwest around the Great Lakes. READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT WebMD