In our ever increasing high-tech, hurry-scurry world of overload, we are constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest potions, pills, products and techniques to cure what ails us both mentally and physically, but what if increased health and happiness could be attained by simply taking in the atmosphere of a natural environment? Is this possible? YES and improved health can be inexpensively and easily had by a simple stroll on one of our many local trails just east of Santa Margarita!
In the 1980s, a form of nature therapy called Shinrin-yoku (aka “forest bathing”) was introduced in Japan to encourage its citizens to make use of miles of wooded trails for therapy. Since then, forest bathing has increased in popularity and has been proven through research and scientific studies to have real benefits leading the practice to being regarded as a means of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
According to shinrin-yoku.org, the scientifically-proven benefits of forest bathing include boosted immune system functioning with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, improved mood, increased ability to focus (even in children with ADHD), accelerated recovery from surgery or illness, increased energy levels, and improved sleep. In practice, Shinrin-yoku is a form of mindfulness meditation which has been separately studied and shown to have additional mental and physical health benefits. In a recent article by Harvard Health*, studies on mindfulness have shown similar results as well as an increased sense of well-being and emotional resilience, reduced anxiety, reduction of chronic pain, and alleviation of gastrointestinal difficulties.
Shinrin-yoku involves the mindfulness techniques of immersing yourself in the present in a natural environment away from distractions (no cell phones, no music). To start experiencing the potential healing benefits of this natural therapy, head out to one of our many natural areas such as Santa Margarita Lake, the Los Padres National Forest or even venture out to the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Simply walk down a trail, quietly observe your surroundings, notice the terrain and fully engage your senses. Notice the sights, sounds and smells, engage your sense of touch and even your sense of taste (if you’re knowledgeable about wild edibles). Have fun, be curious, encourage friends to join you and compare observations. See you on the trail!