Forest bathing is an accepted part of Japanese preventative health care.
Also known as forest therapy, it draws on thousands of years of intuitive knowledge. We are part of nature and we have a deep need to feel that connection.
A similar explanation is found in ancient Ayurvedic medicine.
Optimal health and full human potential depends on a lifestyle in sync with the cycles of nature. Living against the cycles of nature depletes ojas (vitality) and causes stress and illness.
In Ayurvedic health care there is no specific description of forest bathing. Similar therapies and behaviors are encouraged though, particularly under rasayana, one of the eight branches of Ayurvedic medicine.
During ancient times, 5000 years back, being connected with nature was the only way of life. It was not a therapy as such. People in those times knew to live in alignment with nature.
Ironically today, forest bathing has become a therapy, perhaps more needed than ever before.
According to Ayurveda, one of the primary ways of buildingojas is to immerse oneself in nature on a regular basis.
Ojasis the essential energy for the body and mind. It is responsible for vitality, strength, health, long life, immunity and mental and emotional wellness.
We all know how wonderful being in nature can make us feel. We have known it for centuries.
The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves and the fresh, clean air are all soothing to the mind and senses. They give us a sense of comfort. They ease stress and worry, and help us relax and think more clearly.
Being in nature can restore one’s mood, replenish energy and vitality and rejuvenate the body and mind.
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Forest bathing does draw a close connection to rasayana therapy. This branch of Ayurveda is described in the ancient, classical literature. It can be translated to mean, rejuvenation.
Rasayana forms one of the eight clinical specialties of Ayurveda.1 It consists of a specialized use of certain measures which are supposed to prevent aging and impart longevity, impart immunity and resistance to disease, impart mental faculties and add vitality and luster to the body.
Rasayana therapy is not a simple treatment using medicines. It is a specialized therapeutic procedure practiced as a major specialty.
Rasayana therapy is a comprehensive discipline based on an interesting philosophy and sound scientific footings. It embraces the psychosomatic concepts of health and happiness.
It is well suited to today’s modern society and medical needs where diseases caused by stress, strain and premature aging are the challenge.
In Ayurvedic medicine, rasayana therapy has been divided into three major categories. Forest bathing falls under the third category, achara rasayana.
Kamya rasayana is one type of rasayana therapy. It is indicated during states of health to improve vigor and vitality.
It may be used in patients suffering from specific diseases with a view to improve the vitality of the patients. This may provide the capacity to the patient to fight off those particular diseases.
Naimittika rasayana herbs are another type of rasayana therapy. They are used as adjuncts to other specific therapies. They are not themselves specific treatments for respective diseases.
It has also been claimed that similar rasayana effects can be experienced in both the body and the mind by practicing an improved code of socio-behavioral conduct. This third type of rasayana is called achara rasayana and forest bathing can fall under this category.
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Avoiding anger, excessive indulgence in alcohol, sex and excessive labor has certain benefits. Keeping peaceful, speaking sweet words, practicing mantra or japa and showing kindness to living beings is restorative to the body and mind.
Balanced sleep, regular use of milk, ghee and other nutritious elements of the diet, and taking care with regard to the weather and climate fall under achara rasayana.
Humility, kindness and good behavior do as well. Practicing meditation, studying religious texts and respecting those who believe in God and who are self restrained is beneficial to one’s own health.
One who adopts such a lifestyle and practices these therapies, called Sadacara, achieves the rasayana effects of longevity, luster, complexion, immunity, and improved memory and intelligence without the use of any medicine.
Achara rasayana or good conduct according to one’s nature, keeps a person free from emotional disturbances and permits a less stressful life.Happiness and health are the result.1
Forest bathing can be especially endorsed under this third category of rasayana, achara rasayana, due to its immense health benefits.
Let’s take a look at forest bathing benefits below.
1. Forest bathing rejuvenates and revitalizes you.
Basking in the warmth of nature, breathing fresh air and enjoying a great view revitalizes and rejuvenates you.
2. Forest bathing becomes your ‘me’ time for self-reflection.
Nature allows you to have your own ‘me’ time away from the hustle and bustle of the city, gadgets and the internet. Here you can spend time self reflecting on the decisions you made and the new decisions you will make.
3. Forest bathing helps you stay active.
The forest or natural environment keeps you active. Just walking around the trees, seeing flowing water bodies or enjoying a swimming session can keep you active and energetic throughout the day.
If you are with your family or friends you can enjoy other outdoor activities as well which will definitely enhance your agni (metabolic fire) and you will crave a hearty and healthy meal.
Not only that, being outdoors with your loved ones allows great bonding over meals and the chance to talk.
4. Forest bathing promotes healthy eating.
Forest bathing fosters healthy eating habits. In the forest or woods, you won’t find a mall, supermarket or restaurant. Preparing a healthy meal and carrying home cooked food, fruits and vegetables is required to satiate your appetite.
5. Forest bathing relieves stress.
Being in nature, breathing fresh air and basking in the sunlight is a great stress reliever. Play in the trees. Enjoy the greenery. Feel the earth under your feet.
The greenery around you and the flowing water nearby is soothing and relaxing to the mind, body and soul.
Lack of sunlight and fresh air affects your mood. So a monthly or bi-weekly getaway into the lap of nature is a must to get rid of the daily build up of stress and anxiety.
6. Forest bathing builds immunity.
According to the Ayurvedic health care system, your body is composed of the pancha mahabhutas, the five elements of nature. They are earth, water, fire, air and ether or space.
When you come in contact with those five elements, they enhancs the immunity in your body, strengthen your body and stabilize your mind.
Studies show, Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, time spent in green spaces, can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase your immunity.
In a review study on forest bathing, 28 studies assessed the level of depression before and after the intervention; however, no study conducted additional long-term follow-up assessments.
Regarding the changes in the level of depression, 21 studies showed significant improvement in depression, whereas seven studies reported no significant changes in depression compared to the control group [12,15,18,27–29,33].
The studies that failed to demonstrate a significant improvement in the level of depression were the ones that targeted only healthy individuals.2
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1. Agnivesh, Charaka, Dhridhabala, Chakrapani. In: Trikamaji VJ, Editor Charakasamhita Sharirsthan, Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientaliya, p. 389.
2. (PDF) Effects of Forest Therapy on Depressive Symptoms among Adults: A Systematic Review. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315474109_Effects_of_Forest_Therapy_on_Depressive_Symptoms_among_Adults_A_Systematic_Review [accessed Dec 19 2018].
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