It’s been an hour and a half bath today, in among the shrooms. Nothing like a bath to prepare you for sitting at your computer and writing for four hours.
I’m not talking about lavender water therapy; the bathing I am referring to is shinrin-yoku or forest bathing.
I have lived in the shadow of Mt. Doug for over ten years, but did not start hiking the mountain until 2007. I was recovering from surgery and wanted to spend longer periods outdoors that involved more than holding a trowel.
As a child, I played outside all day, stopping only for a quick lunch. My adult outdoor play consisted of the odd white water rafting trip, semi-regular kayaking, occasional skiing, and gardening. Why did it take me so long to discover this wild secluded place?
I went hiking to feel stronger after my surgery. Something about being in the depths of the forest kept me going back for more. Part of it was being secluded in a natural space, part of it was discovering the plants, flowers, and birds, but as I planted myself in this landscape and the forest took me in, I began to take away something measureless– something more than an ephemeral fresh air, forest exercise high.
Thanks to last Saturday’s Globe and Mail article Healthy Forest, healthy mind, by C. James Dale, I can now qualify (and according to him quantify) the benefits of hiking the forest which is a ten minute walk from my house.
According to the article, our bodies immune systems benefit from the phytoncides or chemicals that “plants emit to protect themselves from rotting and insects.” Dr. Miyazaki of Chiba University is Japan’s leading scholar on forest medicine and he has carried out research on forest walking which quantifies the reduction of cortisol, the lowering of blood pressure, and the increase of anti-tumour proteins.
The beautiful Japanese term shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing from the definition “taking in the forest atmosphere”, was new to me, and probably will be to many of you. What is not new is the benefit of a forest walk, wherever you are in the world.
Maybe that is why I often see a woman who looks like she is in her 80’s still taking the steep Norm trail. She bathes every day.