By being part of ALSO19 you have awarded yourself a powerful green micro break – an increasingly medically recommended antidote to the way, speed, and intensity of the way we live.
ALSO likes to showcase new ideas and to find ways to incorporate these ideas into your life – it’s part of our ‘have a go’ ethos, which is why we’re hoping you might use your time with us to try out Shinrin Yoku or what we call ‘Forest Bathing Babes!’
Our interest in trees was piqued and inspired by the work of Dr Qing Li (author of Shinrin Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing – How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.) He likes trees. A lot. He’s the Associate Professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and he is one of the world’s leading experts on the medical benefits of spending time with trees.
In terms of understanding the beneficial relationship between human and trees, his research is way ahead of ours in the West. Why? Perhaps because the traditional spiritual practices in Japan like the Shinto religion have nature at their heart, or perhaps because the Japanese language lends itself to expressions of the natural sublime – the word ‘yugen’ for example, means a profound sense of the beauty and mystery of the universe, feelings too deep for words. Perhaps we all need to notice nature more to get our ‘yugen’ going - and who needs to hear us explain the experience?
Dr Qing Li was involved in the Shinrin-Yoku national health programme in Japan, which began in 1982 to see if it could play a role in combating the huge levels of stress, which was manifesting in the population of Japan. He began studying the data in earnest in 2004 and soon began to see the effects Shinrin-Yoku had on boosting the immune system, decreasing anxiety, depression and anger and, as they had hoped, reducing stress significantly. By this point, the whole world knew that walking is beneficial for health – but Dr Qing Li’s research could show that walking in forest environments also served to increase energy and affect the quality of sleep. And get this, a forest-bathing trip once a month was enough to maintain a high level of these benefits.
Turns out the aromatherapists were on to something all along. The forest’s natural smell is full of phytoncides – released by the trees to protect them from fungi, bacteria and insects – which when taken in as we breathe, is the key factor in decreasing our stress levels. Likewise, Mycobacterium vaccae (sounds awful – but isn’t) is released by the soil and serves to boost our immune system by breathing it in when released into the air by us walking in the forest.
We need to celebrate trees as the superheroes they are. Air pollution claimed 3 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012 and is on course to claim 6.2 million lives a year by 2050, yet a single tree can absorb 4.5kg of air pollutants a year. In 2014, the largest tree survey of its kind calculated that London’s trees remove 2,241 tonnes of pollution, store 2,367,000 tonnes of carbon, provide 77,200 tonnes of carbon sequestration and capture 3,414,000 cubic metres of stormwater run-off annually. Literally tonnes of help, yet when was the last time you thanked one?
But as more than 80% of the world’s population drifts closer together - living in ever more densely packed urban spaces, many more of us need to actively look out for nature and put it into our lives. In Salon’s home city of London, 8.6 million people live in 600 square miles alongside 8.4 million trees which makes it, according to the UN’s classification, one of the world’s largest urban forest. So wherever and however we live, we can all bring forest bathing into our lives.