Metro explores the latest trends emerging on the West Coast of Canada.
Forest Bathing takes root in Vancouver
Immersing oneself in the forest lowers blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels.
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Every Sunday for the last five years, Jolene Loveday, a Vancouver teacher, goes forest bathing with her husband. After a bit of what is known in Japan as shinrin-yoku or "taking in the forest," she feels rejuvenated.
"The smells of the forest – earth, coniferous trees, rushing water, poplar leaves on the trail" put her in a meditative state, she said.
A growing number of Vancouverites are recognizing the benefits of forest bathing.
The Vancouver-based Suzuki Foundation cites research indicating that forest immersion lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels.
The Foundation recommends urbanites regularly get outside into nature in order to reduce the stress of city life. Vancouver's proximity to forests in places like Stanley Park, Pacific Spirit Park, and the North Shore makes it ideally suited to woodland escapes.
Studies in Japan suggest that forest bathing causes people to breathe in essential, plant-based oils and bacteria as well as negatively charged ions, strengthening the body's immune system. A network of Forest Therapy Trails now extends across Japan.
For those who want a true escape, Gary and Ronda Murdock run Rainforest Nature Hikes on Vancouver Island, offering guided forest bathing hikes. They take people to off the beaten track locations in the ancient rainforest, helping people to slow down their mind, and to take the forest in through sight, sound, smell and touch," said Ronda.
As naturalist guides, the Murdock "know all the native plants and many of their medicinal uses by Vancouver Island First Peoples," said Ronda. " The indigenous people have always known about the "healing strength and spiritual uplift of the forest". And science is finally catching up.
"We have spent our life walking in forests and we always knew how wonderful we felt. Now we know that it leads to improved mood, sleep and immune function," Ronda said.
Loveday believes forest bathing is important because "we need to breathe clean, oxygen rich air, walk in relative quiet, and visually disengage from the sometimes oppressive visual culture around us, like ads, artificial light, and crowds," she said. Ronda agrees, noting that the electronic age and increased stress make it "more difficult to calm the mind."
Loveday said forest bathing makes her "more grounded and grateful for the natural beauty all around us coupled with a fierce desire to protect it. "