by Anna Fletcher
“The physician heals, nature makes well.” – Aristotle
Japanese culture brings us many interesting and useful words of wisdom. Mizu ni nagasu, translated literally “Let flow in the water”, means to forgive and forget (your trouble is water under the bridge, so to speak). Saru mo ki kara ochiru, “Even monkeys fall from trees”, teaches us that nobody is perfect – even experts make mistakes. Anzuru yori umu ga yasushi, “Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it”, advises that fear is always greater than the actual danger. And perhaps the truest of them all: Onna sannin yoreba kashimashii, “If three women visit, noisy”, teaches us that when a group of women gathers, it is indeed noisy.
It is from the vast wisdom of the Japanese that the concept shinrin-yoku originates. This phrase literally translates to “forest bathing” or spending time in nature for the sake of your health. Japanese doctors are actually prescribing hanging out in the woods to improve mental health, because it encourages creativity flow, jumpstarts your brain and generally helps you feel super good. Taking meditative walks through the woods combines motion with relaxation, allowing you to energize your body while exploring nature’s health-improving and life-giving properties. It forces you to slow down and enjoy the wilderness, observing and being part of the sights, sounds, smells and touch of that place.
“Forest bathing” was introduced in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan in order to promote a healthy lifestyle. From there, it has grown into a profound medical practice used by over a quarter Japan. Dr. Qing Li – associate professor in the Department of Hygiene and Public Health at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, VP/Secretary General of International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine – is one of the world’s leading experts on it. According to Li, shinrin-yoku prevents the development of chronic illnesses like cancer, high blood pressure and hypertension, as well as calms psychological issues like anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and emotional distress.
Need another reason to wander through the woods when you’re feeling bad? John Kerastas, a blogger in Chicago who is also battling a brain tumor, began practicing shinrin-yoku to help with his treatment. He has credited trips such as hiking the Coast-to-Crest trail around Ashland, Oregon and exploring Yosemite National Park to helping him feel much better simply by immersing himself in nature.
Who knew that the healing powers of the woods are exactly that: powerful?