A refreshing walk in the great outdoors can really lift the spirits when you’re feeling mentally drained, and now a new book reveals the science behind why nature is so good for the soul.
Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, has spent several decades researching the benefits of nature therapy and his book reveals how any of us can use the practice of ‘Japanese Forest Bathing’ to benefit our mental wellbeing.
Known in Japanese as shinrin-yoku, it involves ‘bathing’ in the environment of the forest using all your senses to experience nature up close.
‘In 1992, I conducted the first wood therapy experiments and since then the results have been consistent,’ he said.
‘Simply by smelling or touching pieces of pine, oak or Japanese cypress wood, subjects experienced a calming of prefrontal brain activity, a reduction in sympathetic nerve activity and a rise in parasympathetic nerve activity – all of which amounts to a reduction in stress.’
You don’t need to live in Japan to practice shinrin-yoku, as embracing nature in any context will have a beneficial effect, and you can also bring the benefits of the forest into your home in the form of essential oils.
‘We have done quite a bit of research on the physiological relaxation effects provided by tree-derived aromas,’ Professor Miyazaki said. ‘Results have shown that subjects experienced lower blood pressure, increases in parasympathetic nerve activity (known to increase during relaxation) and a calming of prefrontal brain activity.’
Here Professor Miyazaki reveals the scents to choose for a calming effect.
You can bring the benefits of the forest into your home in the form of essential oils (stock image)
The use of cedarwood oil, or cedar oil, dates back centuries. Its warm, woody scent is believed by many to soothe the mind and body, offering great relaxation benefits, and act as a grounding aroma which promotes feelings of vitality and wellness.
Cedarwood oil contains a group of chemicals called sesquiterpenes, empirically recognised for their ability to promote grounding and balance the emotions.
How to walk mindfully
The practice of shinrin-yoku is based on walking through the forest at a gentle pace for two hours or more.
Keeping your phone switched off allows time to soak up the environment around you and come into the here and now.
The phrase shikan shouyou means
“nothing but wandering along”, something we rarely get a chance to do, but which is very beneficial.
Feel your feet touching the ground. The movement of your muscles. The constant balancing and rebalancing of the body.
Pay attention to any areas of stiffness or pain in the body and consciously relax them.
Become aware of your present mental and emotional states. Notice your state of mind. Is it calm or busy, cloudy or focused? Where is your mind?
Be aware of your location in space, the sounds around you and the air temperature.
Pay attention to the experience of walking and keep your awareness engaged in this experience.
Be aware of the beginning, the middle and the end of your stepping.
Walk as silently as possible.
Allow your awareness to move up through every part of your body, noticing the sensations as you walk.
Gradually scan all parts of your body as you bring your attention to the ankles, skin, calves, knees, thighs, hips, pelvis, back, chest, shoulders, arms, neck and head.
Uses and benefits
• Put three or four drops in a diffuser at the end of a long day to ground yourself and create a relaxing environment.
• To improve your exercise routine, massage one or two drops into your chest to boost vitality before a workout.
• When you find yourself distressed by unfamiliar situations, inhale the aroma to calm the mind.
• Diffuse cedarwood oil in your home, office or workspace to promote feelings of confidence and self-esteem.
With its clean, fresh and woody aroma, Douglas fir oil is believed to promote a positive mood and improve focus and concentration.
It is also used to cleanse and purify the skin and clear airways.
Douglas fir contains α-pinene, a compound that has relaxing benefits when inhaled on its own.
Uses and benefits
• Combine with wild orange, lemon or bergamot oil in a diffuser to freshen the air, improve your mood and help you focus.
• Add a drop to your facial cleanser or body wash to cleanse your skin, relax and invigorate you at the same time.
• Rub two or three drops into your hands then inhale deeply if your nose is blocked.
With its camphoraceous, minty aroma, eucalyptus is used to clear the mind and reduce tension. It is recommended for its purifying properties, which can be beneficial for the skin, and it is used to help clear the airways.
The main aroma compounds of eucalyptus oil are eucalyptol and α-terpineol, which are also thought to induce relaxation, making eucalyptus an ideal massage oil.
Uses and benefits
• Place a few drops in your hands while showering, hold over your nose and breathe deeply to invigorate and promote vitality.
• Use three or four drops in a diffuser to scent your room.
• Dilute one or two drops with some coconut oil and use for a relaxing massage.
With its camphoraceous, minty aroma, eucalyptus is used to clear the mind and reduce tension