Forest Bathing and the Importance of Stillness.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. 
-John Muir

When we think about our gardens and outdoor spaces we often don't think of them as having the power to heal. We see them as pretty additions to our homes and neighborhoods, something that adds a nice frame to the photo of our day to day life. As we hurry through our days from work to taking care of family or going out with friends, eyes on our phones or other screens, we seldom take the time to stop, breathe and reconnect to the land that we come from.

In Japan there is a term called "shinrin-yoku" or "forest bathing". It is the idea that "exposure to nature positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system", reducing stress, anxiety, depression and even affecting the levels of certain hormones that are linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that breathing the volatile organic
oils secreted by some plants, called phytoncides, is "scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells". Not only that but a separate study shows that just listening to the sounds of nature can facilitate recovery after psychological stress.

Could instituting shinrin-yoku in our own gardens or at a neighborhood park have a similar affect on our psychological health and wellbeing? Creating outdoor spaces that allow us to immerse ourselves in nature and disconnect from the stress of daily life can improve our lives in ways we never imagined. Leaving our phones behind and taking even 10 minutes to sit quietly under a tree, listening to the sounds of birds and tree leaves in the wind, breathing in the quietude and breathing out all of the stress of the day...this is what our outdoor spaces are for, living in, connecting to and letting everything else go for a time.