In my preparation for trail ultras, I would spent hours training in the forest trail on weekends. There is something magical about running or hiking in the forest that leaves you refreshed and renewed. The nature makes you feel good.
The Japanese is known to practice something called shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku literally means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. Shinrin-yoku however, is not exercising. It is simply being in and connecting with nature through the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
There is power in the forest and the way to unlock it is through our senses. You want to experience the nature not only with your eyes, but through your ears, nose, hands and feet.
I love the freshness of the air when I take deep breaths. The different colours and shapes of the foliage and plants are visually pleasing. You can smell the fragrance of the forest and listen to the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees. I would touch the trunk of big trees, walk on streams and dip in waterfalls if there is one.
In my trainings on forest trails, I have not forgotten to slow down and smell the roses (more like leaves). I take forest bathing in every sense of the word. Connecting with the nature is a way I derive happiness. Work can be busy and raising two boys only makes it more hectic. That is why I find it important to get outside and into the jungle whenever I can.
Spending time in the forest clears my mind. I get in touch with myself and reflect on my shortcomings and areas that I can improve on. Apparently it will also reduce my blood pressure and cortisol levels, which in turns produces calming effect. No wonder I feel better after spending some time in the woods.
Exposure to forests and nature
You can find many studies on the therapeutic benefits of forest bathing which include:
- Boosting immune system
- Reducing stress
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving mood
- Increasing concentration
- Increasing energy level
- Improving sleep
In the forest, we breathe in fresh air filled with phytoncides. Phytoncides is an airborne chemical that plants give-off to protect themselves from insects. Interestingly, phytoncides have antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When we breathe in phytoncides, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of white blood cells.
Spending time around trees has the effect of reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving mood. Numerous studies show that both exercising in forests and simply sitting looking at trees will reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Being in the nature helps you to be more focus. Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, and family life. Trying to focus on many activities can mentally drain us. Spending time in the forest gives our cognitive brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to concentrate on what is important.
Walking or running in the forest is a great exercise. It is a brilliant way to get moving and enjoy the natural environment at the same time. Instead of feeling more tired, working out in the forest will give you more energy. The quiet and peaceful forest will reduce the hormones that causes stress and make you calmer. At the end of the day, you will sleep better at night too.
Good to unplug sometimes
Another big benefit of spending time in the forest is having time-off from your smartphone and devices. With so much on the Internet and social media, we are squandering increasing amount of time distracted by our phones, which can take a serious toll on our mental and physical well-being.
Yes, our smartphones can help us to be more productive and enhance the quality of our lives. Yet despite the amazing benefits, it is becoming more and more obvious that most people are losing control over their smartphone usage.
Hopefully the beauty of the forest will attract and rescue us from our smartphones while we immerse in the wonders of the nature.
Use the ‘Forest’ App when all else fails
If the real forest fails to entice you, then as a last resort, I would recommend that you download Forest, an app gamifying the process of not using your phone.
With Forest, you set a time limit for how long you don’t want to use your phone. If you succeed, a tree will grow in your digital ‘forest.’ Maybe this will make not using your phone a bit more fun!