Forest Bathing on Finn Hill?

Forest Bathing on Finn Hill?

2012-7-4 trail scene-west JW

In recent weeks, I’ve had conversations where people have mentioned reading or hearing about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” The general idea is that spending time in the forest has been shown to reduce stress and improve health. Even though the term may be new to us and suddenly popular in certain circles (you can read more about it in this Washington Post article), it’s certainly not a new idea or specific to the Japanese. Many cultures—hundreds of years before our urbanized lifestyle—prescribed time among the trees to help with healing. The idea doesn’t seem far-fetched to me at all, in fact it’s something many of us know intuitively without the need for studies to prove it. I think this is especially true for those of us who live on Finn Hill and regularly walk the trails in our area. Maybe we wouldn’t call it forest bathing (although this winter was so wet that “bathing” feels like a pretty accurate term) but I think many of us know there are multiple levels of benefits we receive from being in the woods. It’s not just the exercise we get, or a chance for our children or dogs to get outside, we also feel the benefit to our health on a deeper level.

According to the Washington Post article, studies in Japan have found that “subjects who participated in forest bathing had lower blood pressure, heart rate and concentrations of salivary cortisol — a stress hormone — when compared with those who walked through a city setting. Studies performed in other countries, such as Finland and the United States showed similar reductions in tension and anxiety.” Other studies have found a boost in immune function where “the numbers of natural killer cells — a type of white blood cell that fights infected or tumor cells — and other immune system markers were significantly higher after forest bathing than before.”

OODenny Trees

Like many people, my husband and I chose to live on Finn Hill because we wanted trails nearby, and we wanted choices, so that we weren’t always walking the same paths. At the time it was somewhat of a practical decision—we have two dogs that need exercise, and we like getting exercise too. What I didn’t fully realize was how much I benefitted from being on those trails. There is nothing like entering that canopy of green and leaving the built environment behind. Even when I simply drive up Finn Hill on my way home from work, I feel myself take a deeper breath as I leave the concrete behind and Juanita Drive becomes surrounded by trees.

When I visit other cities in the Seattle area and on the eastside, I realize how incredibly fortunate we are to live on Finn Hill. There are few other places where you can have so many miles of trails to explore and find yourself immersed in the woods where all you hear is the chatter of birds and the sound of your own footsteps. In a busy world like ours, this gift is not just a pleasant experience, it’s important for our well-being. It allows us an opportunity for our nervous system to settle and for our mind to let go of the worries of the day. I’m grateful to live in such a special place, and I hope we can preserve the uniqueness of this area that benefits us all, and our health. Here’s to your health, and the health of Finn Hill!

Jessica Paige has worked in the environmental field for over 20 years and is the author of Chasing Ravens, a novel featuring Russian folklore and herbal medicine, two of her other passions.

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