Health through gardening Plant science

Living the Shinrin-yoku Experience… in Your Backyard!

For some time now, we have been hearing a lot about this new Japanese trend, Shinrin-yoku. Freely translated as forest therapy, this practice deserves some attention and—oh, surprise!—if you’re gardening, you’re already getting a lot of the benefits of Shinrin-yoku!

Also known as forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku has the miraculous property of making you feel better. Image: Kiwihug on Unsplash.

It was in 1982 that the government of Japan launched a preventive care program based on Shinrin-yoku. The benefits of plants and nature on human health (in all its facets) have been known for a long time, but it is relatively recent to consider contact with nature as a kind of medical prescription. Indeed, to arrive to this conclusion, it’s necessary that the real beneficial effects of forest bathing are validated by scientific studies. And since the 90s, that’s exactly what Japan has been doing! (and some other countries too)

Shinrin-yoku, What Does It Look Like?

In its most basic sense, the Shinrin-yuko is a simple walk in the forest where relaxation, silence and solitude are essential. It’s a sort of contemplative and meditative moment that will have beneficial effects on the visitor’s physiological and psychological health. Shinrin-yoku is part of a more general practice called nature therapy.

The experience of Shinrin-yoku is often sold as a very refined art, where only a few ancient forests, composed of certain particular tree species, are allowed to be visited. The walker must put themselves in a state of full consciousness in order to awaken their five senses. It would be necessary to walk slowly in bamboo sandals and linen trousers, a practice reserved for the “elected” only. However, science reveals to us that this is not the case and that Shinrin-yoku is really within everyone’s reach!

Some Facts About the Benefits

Before giving you the secret of a successful Shinrin-yoku experience, let’s talk about the real effects that this incursion into nature has on human health. The most important benefit (and the most scientifically documented) is the reduction in stress levels. We enter the forest stressed… and we come out less stressed! And the good news is that the more the person experiences intense stress, the greater the effect will be on reducing the level of stress! Along the same line, Shinrin-yoku also has beneficial effects on anxiety and depression.

We are also beginning to confirm the effects on cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension, the reduction of the risk of occupational burnout and even effects on the immune system, such as the reduction of the risk of cancer. Respiratory disorders and, surprisingly, allergies, can also be reduced thanks to Shinrin-yoku. People with certain types of diabetes also benefit from these walks in the forest.

Finally, and this is obvious, after a walk in the forest, we feel more relaxed, our feeling of gratitude increases and we suddenly become more altruistic!

The Shocking Revelation!

Wow! How wonderful, all these benefits! Definitely worth going for a walk in the woods! And yes, of course, it’s always nice to go for a walk in the forest, but…

In reality, all these almost miraculous beneficial effects can also be obtained… while gardening! Yes, studies on gardening give us much the same results. A small Japanese study even revealed that some benefits are obtained after walking in the forest for just 15 minutes. No need to climb mountains or to buy hiking boots! Another very interesting study reveals that it suffices to contemplate three Dracaenas… in a laboratory and presto! It’s happiness! This latest study shows that indoor plants are also very, very good for our health!

Yes, gardening provides the same benefits as a walk in the woods. Image: Pexels.

Scientists even asked themselves: is it the smell of the forest, is it the sound of running water from a stream, is it the sight of the forest? What makes the forest good for us? Well, it’s all of it! The famous phytoncides, which are often associated with Shinrin-yoku, are in fact antimicrobial volatile organic compounds. Simply said, these are the smells of the forest explained scientifically! In short, the great benefits of forest bathing are not limited to phytoncides. Sounds, sight, and even the bark you touch contribute to the overall effects of Shinrin-yoku.

How to Explain All This?

Some scientists have advanced the hypothesis that the feeling of comfort provided by nature is closely linked with our evolution. At our origins, we lived directly in nature. The artificial way of life of our modern societies would therefore be a permanent source of stress. Going to the forest would be like going back home!

And deep down, even without scientific proof, we knew that a walk in the forest feels good. Without fully understanding all the basics of the practice, Cyrus the Great, in the 6th centuryBC, had gardens built in the crowded cities of Persia. Paracelsus was praising the nature that heals (that said, he is also a fervent follower of the theory of signatures…). And we, who garden, know how good it feels when getting your hands in the ground!

So, even if the Shinrin-yoku, by its definition, invites us to stroll in the wooded environment, let’s not lose sight that we can extract the same beneficial effects during a 30-minute gardening session… in our own yard!

Take advantage of nature and of your garden! It’s good for you! Image: Pexels.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

2 comments on “Living the Shinrin-yoku Experience… in Your Backyard!

  1. Kandis Mueller

    How should I prune for a shinrin-yoku backyard place? (Mostly juniper trees and scrub oak “shrubbery.”) Gardens are to be enjoyed! That’s why I love your name!

  2. Christine Lemieux

    I love this! It is great information to solidify what we already know, and to motivate us to destress in nature more often! And another reason to be a laidback type of gardener!

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