Forest Bathing in Vancouver Island Rainforests
Our tension released, our breath elongated, and our hearts opened. This is how we first experienced the way light moves through the tree canopies and illuminates the beard lichens in Vancouver Island rainforests.
A forest walk amongst the Pacific Rim National Park weaves along boardwalks between towering coastal spruces and firs that flourish in the long growing season and rich moisture. The boardwalks keep you risen above areas of bog and muskeg as you pass over areas of Shorepine, Labrador tea, and the taffy pink Bog Laurel without leaving a footprint.
You may have experienced thickets of huckleberry, salmonberry and salal taller than the eye can see. Or Sword and Bracken ferns that fluff up the space between trees like clouds skirting across mountain valleys.
We know that we feel good in nature but we’ve forgotten that our genes are adapted to nature. Yet, we are so easily confined in urban areas away from nature.
6 healing properties of Forest Bathing in Vancouver Island Rainforests
“Although human beings and their direct ancestors have existed for approximately 7 million years, we have spent over 99.99 percent of that time living in nature,” explains Miyazaki Yoshifumi, forest bathing specialist and scientist. “Our genes are adapted to nature, and they have not changed over the two or three centuries since the industrial revolution.”
Taking slow, deep breaths in the atmosphere of the forest allows us to absorb the healing benefits of terpenes, the essential oil makeup in plants. Terpenes anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic, and neuroprotective activities are easily obtained from forests, especially when we’re near conifers in the rainforests of Vancouver Island.
Bathing in these forest aerosols has shown to decrease inflammation and improve physical relaxation, mood, sleep, stress, and memory.
When we step outside we generally feel a sudden release. It’s not just the open sky and daylight we feel--- it’s negative ions.
The great indoors are filled with positive ions from fluorescent lights, electronics, carpets, and upholsteries resulting in overall heaviness and even depression in the body.
Out of all the different types of natural environments, forests are found to have double the amount of negative ion concentration. Negative ions are caused by UV rays or flowing water and increase serotonin, improve mood, relieve stress, enhance sleep, strengthen our immune system and boost our energy.
In general, our forests are richest in negative ions in the late evening and early mornings. Such a great excuse to go on a forest moon walk, or wake up with the birds.
Our grandmothers and our grandmothers’ grandmothers stood on this earth barefoot or in leather soled shoes conductive to the earth's natural charge. When we live in rubber soles we insulate our bodies away from the healing benefits of grounding.
Embracing a day of wandering barefoot, allows the earth’s charge to do what it does best: neutralize electric charge imbalance in the body. When we find the soles of our feet grounded to the earth it discharges adrenaline, improves sleep, enhances calm, lifts our mood, and reduces pain and inflammation. Who knew walking barefoot in the grass or napping with our backs in the sand had so many benefits.
Just being able to see tree leaves and grass has been linked to faster recovery in hospitals, sharper performance at work, lower stress hormones in the blood, and less mental distress. So, what is it about the imagery and patterns of nature that the body likes so much?
The answer is fractals. Fractal patterns are the mandalas of nature. We’ve known them in pinecones, cedar boughs, succulents, seashells, leaf veins, rivers and coastlines. They are the never-ending pattern in nature that repeats itself across different scales and promote peace, clarity, and healing in us.
Listening to an orchestra of songbirds in tree canopies, or the gentle trickle of creek sized waterfall are the most naturally restorative and calming sounds.
When we listen to the sounds of Nature on our forest walks, our attention turns outward and in turn our heart rates slow, tension releases, and relaxation ensues.
Prozac, soil microorganisms --- tomayto, tomahto. Forest soils have been found to have similar results to Prozac on our mood (without the side effects) and it’s all due to the little microbes within.
Vancouver Island rainforest soil microbes, specifically the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, help balance the brian/gut connection, regulating emotions and our immune response. When we are in contact with these soil bacteria, our brain releases serotonin helping us feel relaxed and emotionally balanced. This is an invitation to go on a forest walk and get dirty this week.
How to Forest Bathe in Rainforests on Vancouver Island
1. Find the right path
You will reap greater benefits in denser forests. Find a place with not too many other people and their technology around. If ‘forest bathing near me’ doesn’t work in Google, find a local’s recommendation for a spot with conifers and flowing water.
2. Turn off Electronics
Leave the positive ions machines out of this ritual. They only cause distraction and attachment to stressors we’re trying to leave behind.
3. Engage your senses
In mindfulness we engage all five senses. What do you taste in the forest air? How does the soil feel under your feet? What else do you see, hear, and smell?
4. Walk slowly and mindfully
Walking mindfully involves taking very slow, intentional steps where you feel every aspect of the movement without distraction.
5. Pause often
Take many pauses to fully engage your senses and experience the sensations of a long deep breath.
Written by Robyn Jin.