What brought you to Whistler?
Almost everyone I've asked that question of has included "nature" as one of the top reasons why they came, or why they stayed for longer than originally planned. Our majestic Coast Mountains, lushly vegetated temperate rainforest, and multi-hued lakes and streams are truly captivating.
We can attest to how good it feels to bask in our natural surroundings. To hear the songbirds sing from the treetops, smell the wild roses, watch the wind set the forest in motion like a ripple in the ocean.
Humans evolved in nature so it may sound odd that we would need science to prove that being in the forest is good for our health and well-being. Yet it has done just that, and this research may one day allow doctors to prescribe "forest bathing" sessions to patients that would be covered by provincial or extended health programs.
The term forest bathing comes from the Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku (shinrin means forest and yoku, bath or bathing). Another way to phrase it is "bathing or taking in the forest atmosphere with all of your senses."
Shinrin-yoku originated in Japan in 1982 when the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries launched a national health program and coined the term. Since then it has gained popularity across the world as empirical evidence continues to emerge supporting the idea that forest bathing is actually very good for our health.
Dr. Qing Li, president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, has studied the benefits of forest bathing on human health since 2004. What he has learned is that spending time in nature can do the following: reduce blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase ability to focus, accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase energy levels, improve sleep quality, and boost immune system functioning with an increase in Natural Killer (NK) cells. He also talks about a measurable molecular component in forest air called "phytoncides," essential oils given off by many tree species to help them fight insects and disease, but that also help boost our own health.
So how exactly does one practice shinrin-yoku?
First, you'll have to leave your bike at home. Forest bathing is not meant to be exercise. It isn't a hike or a jog. Rather, it's an opportunity for mindful connection with nature. A chance to slow down and open up all of your senses to the experience of, well...experiencing. To actually register what you are noticing as you wander aimlessly through the forest. To let your heart guide your steps, or your nose, or your ears. When we open up our senses in this way, we begin to connect to the natural world in the way that we evolved to.
You can also join the Whistler Naturalists in partnership with the local Forest and Flow group for its next guided forest-bathing walk coming up on Tuesday, July 16 at 5 p.m.
Written by: Sabrina Hinitz