With the lockdowns that’s stretched on for more than a year, I can only dream of the forest and the mountains where I get my energy. There, I would walk under the canopy of a rainforest, undeterred by my age (I am a senior citizen); or by the working time I have to clear just to go outdoors; or by the cost of what is slowly becoming an expedition (with friends joining me).
In a column for the health section that I wrote years ago, I’ve explained the extraordinary call of the forest which I answer many times throughout the year. Long before I learned about the concept of forest bathing, I took delight in taking a hike in the forests, and later, climbing to the summit – because I would feel energized and in high spirits.
I tell my friends that a long walk – or even a climb – worked like magic to me. Instead of getting into a sour mood because of physical exhaustion, I savored the time to rest while in uncomfortable positions, sitting on a dead tree trunk or a mound of earth. Not even a downpour could trigger my temper while I am in the forest.
With most of us staying at home, or staying in one city, for more than a year, it would be futile for me to tell you to go out and take a hike in the forest which is likely many towns and provinces away from where you live. But let me tell you about the benefits of “forest bathing.” Even in the absence of a forest, I’ve found delight in walking nearest to bushes or plants that my daughter has allowed to shoot up and form a wall of green in our small courtyard. The 40-minute nightly walks I do beside these garden plants give me a shot of the benefits of forest bathing. Sure, it is far from the energy load I get from hiking through a rainforest, but with a pandemic around, one can feel joy from walking along thick bushes and overgrown plants.
The walk still gives me the benefits of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) which is described simply as intentionally connecting to nature. It gives me peace of mind to fight off anxiety, and a lot of energy to go through a stressful day.
Two years ago, my son and I climbed Mt. Ulap, a trail that meandered through at least five mountains, where the trail led to the summit of each. The exit trail was even more exhausting – a 70-degree cliff with rows of steps carved onto the hard earth. We did the whole trail in exactly 12 hours. After a short rest and change of clothes, we left Itogon town in Benguet at 8 p.m., reached Baguio City to buy our dinner at 9, and were home in Quezon City by 2 a.m. The next day, I was at work at 2 p.m.
In the book The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing, the value of the practice cites a 2009 study on therapeutic effects of forest bathing: “Spending time immersed in nature reduces stress, lowers heart rate, lowers cortisol levels, decreases inflammation, boosts the immune system, improves mood, increases the ability to focus, jump starts creativity, increases energy levels, and makes us more generous and compassionate.”
Another research paper said: “In a study spanning visitors to 24 forests, Japanese research showed that when people strolled through forested areas, their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, plummeted almost 16 percent more than when they walked in an urban environment.”
The magic happens when we take a walk. That is easy to do. Our body is made to walk. A hike is just a long walk, a little longer than the walks we take around the malls.
I know most of us do not have the luxury of having spaces for gardens and long walks. Find a patch of green in your village and be creative in winding your way through the bushes dozens of times. It will make you feel better. Try it.