Shinrin-yoku is simply the medicine of being in the forest. A Japanese term it translates as, “immersing in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir
The last day of Deanne’s stay with me here in Alaska we took the opportunity to hike and get outside for one last time before she headed back to the rat race of her stressful job in California. Her entire visit here was filled with shinrin-yoku (extending the definition to being outside) and I am hoping that she continues getting outside when she returns back home!
Our first stop on the way from Seward to Anchorage airport was the Alyeska Tram. A short tram ride took us from The Hotel Alyeska to 2,300 ft in elevation and the top of Mt. Alyeska. From the Tram, you can see for miles in all directions – including views of the Turnagain Arm, up to seven “hanging” glaciers, and endless peaks deep into the Chugach Mountain range. There is also a small but interesting museum in a historic building at the top of the tram that is certainly worth a visit. This is a great location for a picnic lunch if the weather is cooperating – and if not, there is indoor seating at the top. These awesome views were just the beginning of our day in the outdoors.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
CNN recently wrote about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”:
“Studies have shown that within 15 minutes of being in nature, your stress level goes down, your heart rate, blood pressure improves,” said Dr. Nooshin Razani, a pediatrician and nature researcher with Children’s Hospital Oakland. “If you’re in nature longer, you can feel less depressed, less anxious. And if you’re in nature for a few days, you have much increased creativity and cognitive ability.”
How can one argue with a prescription that includes getting outside?
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
Continuing our day of outdoor health benefits we next took to the trail to hike the Winner Creek Trail. This was a six-mile round trip hike through the forest to the Winner Creek Gorge. Rolling hills, few mosquitos – a lovely hike made all the more exciting because it’s part of the Iditarod route and promises a mysterious-sounding “hand tram” ahead. It was a Saturday and a beautiful sunny day so there was quite a few folks on the trail.
“I slow down when hiking. The rhythm of nature is more leisurely. The sun comes up, it moves across the sky, and you begin to synchronize to that rhythm.” – John Mackey
About 2 miles into the trail you cross a bridge while below the entire river is forced into a narrow constriction of solid rock only 15 feet wide. Walking across it, you feel the water thundering beneath.
It shoots through the gorge like a cannon, spewing frothy white water. Looking just below the bridge, you see the river go over a series of 5-10 foot drops. Shortly after the bridge you reach the hand tram over Glacier Creek. This contraption involves a metal basket, rope, pulleys and a steep canyon below – I am sure that my dislike of nights would not have been a problem here (sarcasm!).
Unfortunately this wasn’t tested as in the case of our hike, a long line of hikers waiting to cross. After waiting for at least thirty minutes with the line not seeming to get any shorter it was obvious that in order to get to Anchorage in time for Deanne to make her evening flight we would have to forgo the tram until next time.
“How to get over the river was the bother. At last, after thinking a heap about it, I came to the conclusion that I always did: that the boldest plan is the best and safest.” – Wild Bill Hickok
So back to the idea of shinrin-yoku, and the idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.
As outdoor enthusiasts, we have always known this intuitively. But in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are demonstrating the mechanisms behind the healing effects of simply being in wild and natural areas.
Science has supported the benefits of being outside including:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
What all this means is an overall increase in sense of happiness – and who wouldn’t want that in their lives. So I encourage everyone to get outside and take in some of that shinrin-yoku, you will not be sorry that you did!