Green Canopies, Forest Bathing and Shinrin-yoku
When I was a teenager I went through all the usual drama and angst, mostly a result of social situations at school. School was a concrete and linoleum wasteland built in the 1970’s. Easy to spot from afar (they all look the same around here), my school was long on austerity and short on warmth or anything living. In hindsight it seemed designed to either instill fear or remove individuality in some sort of perverse industrial factory model. Maybe both. There were a few bright spots however; I remember one teacher had many plants in her windowsills and they seemed to cast a different light in the whole classroom.
I went home from school each day and as I stepped off the big yellow bus, I found an oasis of green. My parents had planted many plants and trees, saved others from the bulldozer and had used many native plants to fill in the spaces where the land had been cleared.
I remember on some of the most trying of days, probably when I was struggling to find a group to fit in with (which felt like forever), I would go to a small grassy clearing at the back of the property and meditate. I didn’t even know I was meditating; I only knew it felt peaceful there. It was quiet and calm. There were not masses of students pushing or shoving and nobody to critique your clothing.
I was forest bathing and didn’t even know it.
I told no one for fear of being labeled “weird” or maybe “nature boy” as if it were pejorative. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized what I was doing. Around the same time I was finding peace in the forest, the Japanese had stared a trend called Shinrin-yoku. Studies done in the 1980’s showed that simply spending time in nature, specifically forests, could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. As more research highlighted the benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese government incorporated it into the country’s health program. More recent studies on elementary school students show that children in classrooms that have a view of a forest (or even just green space) scored higher on tests and had fewer behavioral issues than those who were on the other side of the school and had a city or industrial view.
It is easy to find some calm and peace in our hurried urban world; simply find a forest. Go for a walk or just sit and absorb the green colours, the sounds of birds and contemplate your world. Number 5 in this week’s top 5 shows that canopies of tree cover make the biggest positive impact on mental health, particularly in urban or semi urban areas. Find a forest and go for a walk!
In other top happy eco news stories, another study shows that climate change can be beaten by 2050 if we work hard now, the country of Costa Rica is almost 100% powered by renewable energy, dirty and unsustainable coal fired power generation is dying in Europe and one of the busiest airports in the USA bans the sale of single use plastic water bottles!