Journey to calm – Bathing in forests of wonder
I’ve always known that going into the wilderness was a good thing. Cool shade of forests, oxygenated air laden with sweet piney scents make me feel good, calm me and infuse me with a sense of well being.
The Japanese have coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means “forest bathing.” How lovely is that image? Indeed I do feel like I am bathing in another atmosphere of sky and rock and forest, moss and wildflowers.
Lately I’ve been finding scientific articles that back up the benefits of spending time in the wilderness.
Scientists who study this stuff tell us that spending time bathing in the forest boosts our immune system, improves focus and sleep and increases our energy levels. By simply sitting and looking at the forest, we can reduce stress and blood pressure and heal from illness faster. Once again in Japan, preliminary studies have found that in areas with greater forest coverage people have lower mortality rates from a variety of cancers.
At the risk of being simplistic, what I’ve always liked about going into the forest — winter and summer — is how much fun it is, how easy it is to immerse yourself into a different bubble on the planet. Hours, or even days of cavorting in the wilderness clears my head and makes me feel more alive, all senses sparked. Being in nature is an expression of joy. Beside it walks calm, hand in hand with contemplation. My laugh seems to ring clearer as my mind becomes less cluttered with the minutiae of life’s cumbersome details.
Science concurs. When tested, after four days in the forest, a group of people boosted their creative problem solving by 50 per cent.
When I am in nature for any amount of time, my eyes feel rounder and fuller, changed by vistas long and short — the closeup of moss and wildflowers, the endless horizon of mountain range upon mountain range as it drifts into the vanishing point.
Get this: A study that followed 2,000 12-year-old Australian schoolchildren for almost two years found less myopia among them, the more time they spent outdoors.
My other senses kick in too. I am attuned to what is around me: the many smells of the outdoors, the heat, the cool, the flowers, the water and earth; the sounds of wind through trees, the rushing of water as it tumbles over cliffs, or gurgling as it meanders along creek beds, the drone of an insect as it passes by.
I feel childlike, playful; it’s a lightness of being that accompanies shade-dappled scenes, the scuff of a boot on a dirt trail, the heat of the sun on my face. As I purvey a turquoise mountain lake, lay down on a rock, dangling my feet into the cool water, wilderness instills a wonder, simplicity and happiness in me. I celebrate the tingling of my skin as I glide through the sheath of cool mountain lake water, pretending I am an otter. My appreciation of life grows.
Science backs me up on that, too. Studies show that green environments improve self-esteem and mood; people with mental illness had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements. Being near water made the positive effects even stronger.
Scientific studies go so far as to tell us that being in the great outdoors helps us live longer. And that’s okay, if I can return to the forest for as long as I am on my life’s journey.
Bleeding hearts mingle
With forget-me-nots, create
Deep forest longing.
To view full-sized images: http://photos.ageorg.ca