Is forest bathing an unsubstantiated nature fad? Or do trees really exhale health benefits that boost immunity and reduce stress? The answers are found in phytoncides and forest bathing puts you right in their neighborhood.
So get your gear on and let’s trek into the woods. Science — and its Creator — have much to reveal through forest therapy.
WHAT IS FOREST BATHING?
First off, you can forget the swimwear. There’s no pool and no goggles required.
So what are you bathing in? Air!
I know, it sounds a little woo-woo, but what’s behind this name is pretty legit. Forest bathing wouldn’t be a thing without the formidable phytoncide.
WHAT ARE PHYTONCIDES?
Phytoncides are airborne chemicals — produced by trees — that help them defend against harmful insects and fungus. These organic guardians possess anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (from the Department of Environmental Conservation).
The term phytoncide, coined in 1928 by Russian biochemist Boris Tokin, literally means “exterminated by the plant”. Tokin discovered that some plants give off very active substances that protect them from rotting or being eaten by bugs and animals (Wikipedia).
And you, hiking through the forest, inhale these! Trees produce much more than oxygen. Their air is laced with powerful immunity boosters.
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FOREST BATHING
Physician Qing Li, founder of the forest bathing movement, details the proven benefits of woodland air in his groundbreaking book — Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (click link for purchase options). According to Li’s research — and his study of others’ — inhaling phytoncides can:
- boost your mood,
- strengthen your immune system,
- reduce your blood pressure and heart rate,
- lessen feelings of anxiety,
- calm confusion,
- improve sleep,
- enhance creativity,
- accelerate healing, and
- fight cancer!
Fighting Cancer with Phytoncides and Forest Bathing
In an article from December 2009, Qing Li records the effects of this potent tree essence on human Natural Killer cells. NK cells are crucial components of the innate immune system. (from Trends in Immunology) Through experimentation, Dr. Li established that:
Phytoncide exposure significantly increased NK activity and the percentages of NK, perforin, granulysin, and granzyme A/B-expressing cells.
This is good news, dear reader! These Natural Killer cells stoke the immune system, which in turn helps the body gain ground in its fight against cancer (from Natural Medicine Journal).
WHICH TREES PRODUCE PHYTONCIDES?
The following trees and plants are known phytoncide producers:
- Tea Tree
- plus many spices
A woodland of cedar, oak and pine is forest bathing perfection. ????
HOW TO FOREST BATHE — YOUR TREE THERAPY GUIDE
1. Phytoncides and Forest Bathing — Any Tree Will Do
Forest bathing’s appeal goes far beyond the phytoncides. Relaxation is drawn from nature alone. Green spaces offer stress relief — with or without the presence of anti-microbial tree essences.
The less urban your location, the better. That ravine behind your neighborhood, or the tree-ish strip near your apartment complex will do. What’s important is making this experience as immersive as possible. You’ll find your forest bath more cleansing without the residue of city life.
2. Mindful Awareness Fostered by Phytoncides and Forest Bathing
Sensory awareness is at the heart of mindfulness — and forest bathing. A truly immersive experience involves all five senses:
- Touch — Close your eyes and feel the texture of bark and the prickle of evergreen needles.
- Taste — Research this one first, but see what tasty treats the forest might offer. During my forest bathing adventure on Vancouver Island, our guide collected edible berries, leaves and needles. As we relaxed following the hike, he crafted a lovely “forest tea” from these findings (see picture above).
- Sight — Note colors, textures, movement. You may choose to record some of these sensory details in a journal.
- Sound — Closing your eyes helps here too. What do you hear? Birds twittering, leaves rustling, the hollow thud of feet on fertile earth.
- Smell — This is the one!! Exhale and create space. Then inhale those phytoncides! Pack ’em in!
Forests smell so good! Especially those in the Pacific Northwest. Douglas Fir, Spruce, Cedar and Pine fragrances fill the air.
Or what about tropical Florida? There’s nothing like the balmy green scent of a mangrove forest. And speaking of . . . why not visit one right now? Here’s my three minute Forest Bathing video — made on location in Florida.
3. Taking It All In — Meditation & Worship
All trees have a scent. If your woods don’t seem fragrant, pick a few leaves — crush and smell. Breathe in, allowing the experience to unfold before you, moment by moment.
Come with an open and humble heart, ready to receive — from the forest and from God.
You can learn a lot about an Artist by studying the work of His hands. Whether immersion in nature draws you to meditate, worship, or simply breathe — do so from a place of awe and wonder.
You are small. Creation is big and God is bigger yet.
Each breath is a gift, and truly the heavens — and trees — declare the glory of God. There is much to learn from nature — if you are willing to listen.
DEMYSTIFYING PHYTONCIDES AND FOREST BATHING
Forest medicine is both an art and a science. The study of phytoncides continues to prove that stress relief and a stronger immune system can be found in the forest. So why not practice some personal hygiene with a visit to your local woodlands? Mental and physical health await. Happy bathing! ???
Your comments, questions and forest bathing anecdotes are always welcome. Until next time — breathe deeply and carry a big water bottle. Blessings, Ali ?