Ever heard of Shinrin-yoku? It’s the Japanese practice of “forest-bathing,” or taking in the forest atmosphere. Turns out, it’s a really healthy and beneficial practice, particularly for lowering stress levels. Not so hard to believe, I think. Forests are shady and peaceful, of course one might feel less stressed by walking around in them.
Some researchers have studied this. I heard all about it on a podcast, then went over and read the study. Japanese researchers took 12 people, and measured their stress indicators including heart rate variability, blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and pulse rate. Half the subject were sent out for a brief walk in the forest, and half the subjects were sent into a city for a walk. They all came back and had their indicators tested again, and the researchers concluded that the forest-walking did indeed significantly lower the subjects’ stress indices – lower cortisol, lower BP, lower heart rate, and a 55% increase in parasympathetic nerve activity (that’s the “rest and relax” system). In addition to this, the forest-walkers Natural Killer (NK) cell activity, those are the cells that go around gobbling up rogue cancer cells in the body, was increased by 56%!!!
Cool. Forest Bathing works, and nature is awesome cancer-killing, stress-reducing stuff. But here’s the kicker:
Some other researchers came along and expounded on this research. They did a similar study using only indoor forest-simulating stimuli on their subjects, including a) allowing the subjects to handle pieces of wood, b) using audio of forest noises, and c) DIFFUSING TREE OILS IN THE ROOM.
And guess what. They had the same effect. All the stress indices tested were lowered, parasympathetic nervous activity was increased, and Natural Killer cell activity was higher. In short, if you’re stressed, diffusing tree-based essential oils in your home is a great idea.
I believe they used cypress oil in the study, but I’m personally in love with Idaho Balsam Fir right now. I got it as a freebie a few months back, and since I heard about this study it has been a major player in my diffuser rotation. I mix a little lavender in to give it a floral note, and try to get a daily dose.
Cedarwood, Cypress, Blue Spruce, Juniper, Pine, Sandalwood, and Sacred Mountain (a blend of conifer oils) would all be great choices to diffuse. You can basically forest-bathe in your house, and breathe your way to lowered stress.