Shinrin Yoku or “forest bathing” took its name from a recreational practice that many Japanese found to be spiritually and psychologically nourishing. It has quickly gained popularity. Many permaculturists have direct familiarity with the benefits of spending time in the food forest, through the first principle of permaculture: Observe and Interact.
A review by the National Institutes of Health of studies done in Japan and China reveals that mindful, five-sense observation and interaction with forests provides specific, measurable physiological and psychological benefits to “(1) the immune system function (increases natural killer cell counts/aids cancer prevention); (2) cardiovascular system (reduces hypertension/coronary artery disease); (3) the respiratory system (mitigates allergies and respiratory disease); (4) depression and anxiety (alleviates mood disorders and stress); (5) mental relaxation (eases effects of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and; (6) human feelings of “awe” (increase in gratitude and selflessness).”
These benefits can be profound, even after a 15 minute walk in a forest, for city dwellers living with high stress levels. In studies, forest bathing was found to improve sleep-wake cycles, mood and cognition, and to relieve anxiety, emotional distress associated with pain, and self perception of stress.
The smells of forests induced lower heart rate, reduced adrenaline, and increased immune system response.