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Science Finds That “Forest Bathing” Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier

Science Finds That “Forest Bathing” Can Really Make Us Mentally Healthier

What is Forest Bathing?

Forests have always held a special place in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japanese government initiated shinrin-yoku, a national public health program. Its objective is to encourage Japanese residents to get involved with nature and to expose their bodies and minds to the overhead tree canopy. This eco-therapy is relatively simple as the goal is to accomplish nothing. When forest bathing, there is no need to hike or run. The focus is on merely roaming about the forest, taking it all in, and breathing.

The notion that time spent in the forest results in improved physical and mental health is not new, but rather rooted in many ancient customs and traditions. Today, however, research has backed up these claims. Some of the proven benefits of forest bathing include reduced production of the stress hormone cortisol, boosted levels of happiness, and an increased ability to focus and concentrate.

The Effects Of Forest Bathing On Cortisol Levels

One Japanese study, conducted under Institutional Ethical Committee of the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute regulations, set out to measure the effects of forest bathing on cortisol levels. Researchers gathered 280 subjects and identified 24 forests for testing. Each experiment involved groups of 12 individuals walking through and viewing either forests or urban areas.

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Cortisol measurements were taken at the research facility in the mornings before breakfast, before and after walking, and before and after viewing. The test took place over 2 days. On the first day, the group was split between urban and forest settings and on the second day, they switched locations.

Results indicated that forest exposure led to lower concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

Other Positive Psychological Effects Were Proven

Other research has indicated that forest bathing has positive psychological effects. In this study, researchers utilized the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Scale and the Multiple Mood Scale, which measures depression, friendliness, boredom, hostility, liveliness, and well-being.

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498 volunteers participated over a span of 2 days. On the first day, they answered the surveys twice after forest exposure. The second day was a control in which participants responded to the surveys in a controlled environment.

Results concluded that, after forest bathing, hostility and depression decreased while liveliness increased. Interestingly, the findings indicated that the effect was greater on higher levels of stress. This research suggests that forest bathing can be beneficial as a stress reduction tool which may, in turn, reduce the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases.

It Can Also Boost Your Immune System

Yet another benefit of forest bathing is that it boosts immune system functioning. Several studies have shown an increase in Natural Killer cells (NK cells) after exposure to forests and phytoncide, an essential oil derived from wood.

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NK cells produce a rapid immune reaction against viral-infected cells and work to prevent tumor formation. These cells are able to identify, attack, and kill infected cells that lack major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Without MHC, detection of infections is missed by other cells, like T lymphocytes. Researchers, who had previously shown that NK cell production remains elevated in both men and women for longer than 7 days after a weekend forest trip, conducted another study in 2010.

This time, the researchers sought to measure the effects of a 1-day trip to the forest in male immune systems. Twelve volunteers participated in the study, walking for 2 hours in a forest in the morning and afternoon. Researchers took blood and urine samples prior to the trip and for 8 days following forest exposure. The findings indicated that NK cell and anti-cancer protein activity increased after the forest bathing experience. Tests of the forest air also identified a presence of phytoncides.

Get out of the city!

Armed with this information, it’s safe to say that you deserve a trip either out of the city or to a nearby forest park this weekend. Find a walk under the trees that is easy and preferably under 3 miles. Stroll slowly, take in your surroundings, and find somewhere to sit and think for a while. Practice deep breathing and remember, the goal is simply to spend time in the forest. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, relaxed, and more energetic!

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Featured photo credit: Ersi via Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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Last Updated on September 10, 2019

7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

Most of your reality is not a given. It is shaped by your expectations, beliefs and thoughts you have formed about it. A big chunk of these beliefs and expectations are encoded into habits you integrate in your daily life.

Yes, some of these habits are formed unconsciously and can be counter-productive or limiting but conversely, you can consciously form positive habits that will transform and empower your life significantly.

This is a powerful point of departure that more and more people are becoming aware of. The most common trait of highly successful people is the recognition of the power they have in co-creating their reality through changing the way they think, believe or expect their reality to be.

One of the most effective ways of changing our belief patterns is through practising and maintaining daily rituals. Ancient traditions had clearly understood the power of rituals in reinforcing habits and changing the way we see and create our reality a long, long time ago.

Once again, if you look into the life history of any highly successful individual, you will find some form of ritual in their daily routine. Some of these rituals may seem banal or eccentric but don’t be deceived by appearances. Rituals are one of the most effective self-empowering tools freely available at the practitioner’s disposal – that is, you!

Below are some the easiest yet life-changing morning rituals you can do every day. Of course, you can have your own afternoon or bed-time rituals but morning rituals are extremely effective in empowering your day since they help you charge yourself before it all starts.

1. Gratitude

Feeling gratitude and appreciation for those little signs and moments of joy happening in your life is probably one of the most overlooked or underestimated rituals. It is a perfect morning ritual to start your day on a very positive key.

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The real power of gratitude is that it makes you pick out and focus on what is working in your life – what is in tune with your being as a whole. It is selectively positive. It reinforces happiness and positivity by shedding light on those awesome things, small or big, that grace your everyday living.

Quite often, we just pick out the pain points, the problems, the bottle necks, whatever it is that is not working in our life and causing friction, anxiety and unhappiness. This is like constantly rewriting the script of your life with a negative or tragic overtone. Your subconscious mind follows faithfully that script you write whether it is a negative or positive one.

So feeling gratitude is undoubtedly an immensely empowering ritual. Start your day by being thankful for those positive things that happened the previous day or throughout the week. It could be something really petty and small. It doesn’t matter. You might be grateful for an unexpected visit from an old friend, a beautiful encounter with a kind stranger, a new opportunity or whatever it is that shines your way. Do it every morning and see what happens during the day.

Gratitude-Quotes

    2. Writing Down Your Most Important Tasks

    This is a very practical ritual. Start your day by identifying and writing down from one to three of the most important tasks you need to complete during that day. These tasks are ones which support important long term goals that are aligned to your purpose, passion or general direction in life.

    For example, if writing a book or building an online community are important long term goals which are aligned to your personal growth, then an important task for the day might be finishing off a particular page or two of the book or coming up with fresh content ideas for the online community.

    What is important with this ritual is that you identify these tasks and complete them as early in the day as possible. Of course, you will have other tasks apart from the ones you will write down but, these are tasks which can be tackled later or batched up and carried out in one go.

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    Writing down your most important tasks in the morning helps you focus your day and life according to what is essential. It helps you prioritize and manage your time better. As a result, you simplify your life by applying your focus and energy on what really counts for your overall life progress.

    3. Affirm Your Goals in Writing or Drawing

    This is similar to the previous idea but different in its application and purpose. Writing down your most important tasks of the day is a way to have a concrete structure of action to follow. Affirming your goals, on the other hand, is a very powerful way of crystallizing your vision and goals in life into your everyday mental space.

    Writing down or doodling your goals on a piece of paper helps you externalize those goals by giving them form. In return, they are reflected back in your subconscious mind and thus, reinforcing them and integrating them more wholly.

    An example of this would be writing down “I am achieving greater success in my career” or “I am becoming healthier and stronger through my exercise.” Notice the present tense being used as a way to tell yourself you are in the process already. Remember the life script we subconsciously follow? You are basically modifying the script to be applied now in the present.

    Drawing or doodling can be equally, or even more, effective  (if you are more of a visual person) as it summarizes a graphical representation of your goals. For example, if your goal is to build a new house or live in another country, you can draw the house or draw things that symbolise the country you want to live in.

    write down goals

      4. Practice Qi Gong Exercises

      According to Chinese philosophy, Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) means the life force or energy inherent in all things;[1] and Qi Gong is the practice to cultivate and circulate that energy in your body. This may sound esoteric or complicated but actually, Qi Gong is really a set of simple exercises aimed at increasing your health and vitality.

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      There are numerous forms and practices available for free through the online media. As a morning ritual, I recommend following these simple exercises by Qi Gong master Lee Holden:

      5. Drink Hot Water with Lemon

      Simply add a slice of lemon in a glass of hot water and drink one every morning. This is a very simple ritual I follow faithfully every morning.

      Apart from being a good source of vitamin C and a great way of flushing out toxins in the morning, it balances and maintains the PH levels in the body, reduces pain and inflammation in joints and knees and helps nourishing brain and nerve cells. Here are some more benefits of drinking hot water with lemon.

      6. Rise Earlier

      The practical advantages of waking up early are obvious.

      For example, you gain more time for doing exercise such as walking, cycling or Qi Gong as suggested above. You gain more time to be with yourself to reflect, meditate or, more importantly, carry out the other morning rituals.

      So rising early can be seen as a foundation for all the other morning rituals. Many, like myself, find that they are more productive in the early hours of the day.

      Also, various studies have shown that there are many other benefits from waking up an hour or two earlier in the morning. Sleeping early and waking up early helps the body attune with the earth’s circadian rhythms thus, promoting more restorative sleep. Other curious results from such studies show, for instance, that early risers tend to be more optimistic and can anticipate and solve problems more efficiently than the norm.[2]

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      7. Listen to Uplifting Music

      Uplifting music can have a direct impact on our mood, especially in the morning. It charges us emotionally and tunes us into a more positive outlook of the day ahead.

      Most people wake up to music or listen to music as they commute to work. Very often, however, they tune in to a radio or randomly pick a playlist from their device. Being more selective and conscious of the music you listen to in the morning can have a great impact on your day and life in general.

      It’s funny how we try to choose music according to our mood. For example if you are feeling down or disappointed by something, you are more prone to listen to music that reflects that mood – for instance blues, sad songs or downtempo music. This has the effect of reinforcing that mood. What you need to do is the exact opposite and retune your mood by listening to music that beats to a different tune than that mood.

      Try to listen to more uplifting music in the morning even if, or especially if, your mood does not dictate so.

      More About Energetic Habits & Rituals

      Featured photo credit: Carli Jeen via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Live Science: What Is Qi Gong
      [2] Harvard Business Review: Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm

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