Forest bathing may be antidote to stress

As American students scroll aimlessly through their Instagram and social media feeds, they may come across a reel about a new trend in health. Forest bathing! 

Although the idea evokes images of sitting in an abandoned bathtub in the middle of forest or a carved out rain-filled tree trunk, splinters and all, forest bathing is a much more simple form of bathing; no water, plumbing or bubbles required. The idea is to find a place in a forest, turn off any devices for a few hours, sit or stand, close your eyes and listen, feeling the presence of nature, through wind, sounds and smells. Eventually open your eyes as if the world is new, and observe the trees swaying, the color of the leaves, the birds flying high, the natural smells of green. 

Sounds nice doesn’t it? Could students benefit from forest bathing practices? 

Like meditation, forest bathing could provide students with healthy benefits including stress hormone and anxiety reduction. In the yearly release of teen statistics from  88 percent of American teens agree that their generation is detached from nature. Perhaps a nice calm forest bath and a little vitamin D from the sun rays could help reconnect the Instagram generation to the species’ natural environment, the forests.

Forest bathing is a mental health technique that originated from Japan. The idea emerged in the 1980s as a psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku, which translates to ‘’forest bathing’’ or “absorbing the first atmosphere.” 

The actual benefits of forest bathing for a stressed out American student who sits and breathes in the forest air are obvious, like being away from your screen, being more mindful of the world around you and taking a break from schoolwork. In a recent study in Japan, it was found that inhaling tree derived compounds phytoncides reduces stress hormones and increases a white blood cell known as natural killer-T cells, that is an anti-cancer cell. As students spend more and more time inside doing homework, playing video games, scrolling on their devices, maybe this trending idea of forest bathing and being purposely mindful of the environment might be an interesting new program that could be offered in schools across America to improve the mental health of the 88 percent of students who are experiencing stress.

Picture Cedar Falls HIgh School in picturesque Cedar Falls, Iowa, a community that is surrounded by bike trails, the Hartman Reserve,  George Wyth State park and plenty of other natural environments that students could reconnect with nature. 

At the Hartman Reserve in Cedar Falls, ​Connie Svoboda, certified forest therapy guide and conservation staff member, leads these three-hour experiences. Svoboda said, “Forest bathing is a slow-paced, therapeutic experience in nature that promotes wellness through a series of gentle, sensory-opening invitations. Studies have shown that being in nature offers a wide array of health benefits, especially in the cardiovascular and immune systems, and for helping to stabilize mood and improve cognition. We could all use that, right?”

Students could definitely use that for a brain boost. Teachers too. Of course, parents also! The idea of spending time in nature for health is not new, but in today’s busy, busy culture, maybe there should be an effort from parents or school systems to help get students back into the natural environment. It’s time to turn off our devices and listen to the quiet natural sounds of the forest environment and just … be.

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