Walking in the woods or a park, breathing in the clean air, hearing the wind rustle leaves – spending time in nature calms our mind and lifts our spirits. But how?
Research over the past few decades has found that spending time in nature or even just viewing nature scenes can reduce feelings of fear, anger, and stress. Physically, being in nature lowers our stress hormone levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and short-term levels of anxiety and depression, contributing to a great sense of physical wellbeing.
We can improve our mental health through nature by “Forest-Bathing,” a form of nature therapy that differs from embarking on a rigorous hike with the goal of reaching the highest peak. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, Forest Bathing has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Despite how it sounds, Forest Bathing isn’t about showering in the rain or taking a dip in a lake after a night of camping. Rather, the term stems from the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, which means “to bring in the forest.” Forest bathing is all about soaking up your natural surroundings — the sights, sounds, and smells.
Forest Bathing is not about getting to a destination; rather, it’s a moving meditation amidst the trees.
Forest-bathing has been scientifically proven to:
Boost immune system functioning
Reduce blood pressure
Increase ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
Accelerate recovery from surgery or illness
This method delivers the greatest benefits when mindfulness and inward focus are incorporated. When we experience nature as it presents itself, without the need for judgment or to rush or alter the experience, it grounds us. Scott Clawson, counselor with North Range’s Youth and Family Intensive Services says, “Grounding ourselves in nature is how we are able to return to the basics of who we are and what we love to do. It’s a way to become our own best friend.”
On your walk, allow nature to help you connect to your senses. Keep your phone in your pocket, your headphones in the car, and focus on paying attention to what you can see, hear, feel, and smell from your environment. Listen to the wind moving through the trees, how the sun feels on your face, and the smell of dirt on the path in front of you. Use this grounding exercise below to get started:
Grounding With Your Five Senses
Don’t have a forest nearby? That’s okay. You can experience the same benefits on a local trail or park. Check out Outdoor Rx, an initiative from Thriving Weld, for an interactive map of all the trails and parks in Weld County.
The healing power of nature can help us weather the challenges of life. As Coloradoans, we are blessed with ample natural resources and opportunities for connecting with the outdoors, in any season. As the world around us slows down with snowy days and dark nights, take this time to reconnect with the power of nature – and yourself.
- Outdoor Rx: A Thriving Weld initiative aimed at getting people outdoors to improve physical and mental wellbeing.
- Coffee with a Counselor: Winter Walks
- I Tried ‘Forest Therapy.’ Here’s What It Did for My Mental Health
- What’s forest bathing and why are so many people in Colorado doing it?