Some of the best years of my life have been spent in beautiful cities all over the world. What set these towns apart were the beautiful forests that surrounded our dwellings. Shillong in Meghalaya, Ann Arbor in Michigan and Menlo Park in California come to mind immediately. Within a five-minute walking distance you could drown yourself inside of a forest (pardon the abuse of the English language). I didn’t know it then, but the woods had a tremendous impact on me and my brain.
Researchers have found that people who live in proximity to forests show a healthy and robust functioning of a vital part of the brain known as the amygdala. A cohort that lived close to the forest lived longer, had lower levels of aggression and had children that showed improved cognitive development. The researchers admitted that it was difficult to prove causality, i.e., that it was the fact that living near the forest that caused the outcomes described above.
The Japanese have always known this and believed in it. They call it Shinrin-yoku or taking in the forest atmosphere. The Japanese believe that trees give off an organic compound that stimulates the natural killer cells that make up our immune system. Spending time in the forest or even close to a forest can, therefore, boost your immune system, reduce blood pressure, reduce stress, improve your mood, sleep and even your energy levels.
The practice of Shinrin-yoku involves a leisurely walk on paths shaded by forest canopies and meditation and mindfulness during the walk. Apparently, you are not carrying your mobile phone with you as it would disturb the KI of the forest. The KI of the woods if the air, atmosphere, mind or spirit of the woods. It is to soak in this KI that you are forest bathing.