Why forests and rivers are the most potent health tonic around – Rebecca Lawton | Aeon Essays (Aeon)

ver guides might know that nature is transformative for the human body and psyche; but the mechanism behind such profound change is less universally agreed upon and understood. How nature heals had been little researched until 1982, when Tomohide Akiyama, who was then secretary of the Forest Agency in Japan, coined the term shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) to describe the practice of getting into the woods for body and mind renewal, to counter lifestyle-related health issues.

The tradition was already ages-old in Japan, but naming it went hand in hand with making recommendations for best practices: one should walk, sit, gaze and exercise among the trees; eat well-balanced meals of organic, locally sourced food; and, if available, immerse in hot springs. All five senses should be engaged, especially for certification as one of Japan’s official Forest Therapy Bases, which are well-maintained, embraced by the local community, and which are required to show, in practitioners, a decrease in physiological markers such as levels of the stress hormone cortisol after wandering in the woods.

When Akiyama recommended forest bathing all those years ago, he knew about the pioneering studies of phytoncides – basically, pungent essential oils – conducted by the Soviet scientist Boris P Tokin in the 1920s and ’30s. The oils, volatile compounds exuded by conifers and some other plants, reduce blood pressure and boost immune function, among other benefits.

Rebecca Lawton is a fluvial geologist and former river guide who writes about water in the West.

When I was a child growing up in the West Indies, I would get lost in the woods for hours with my two brothers. Sometimes we would stand in one of the local streams. We would observe and interact with the crayfish or tadpoles.

I have tried doing the same here, in the forested areas around my township and nearby townships. But it’s often not a pleasant experience. I am allergic to all of the pollinating trees. I do it anyway.

I have written about “forest bathing” in the Sourland Mountain Range.

I’ve had some severe health challenges that I need to resolve over the next few weeks. I also received news from my brother that my father has passed away in the early AM on Sunday. I am in a state of quiet anxiety and morning. Pensive and restless. My favourite brewery released a new ale yesterday and wanting to have some normalcy Bhavana drove me to get a few crowlers. On the way back across the open farm field, I told her that I had this great urge to sit outside in the open field; listening.

In the Princeton area, the rains started in March and it seems they will never stop. The total precipitation for June was almost as high as May and May exceeded April which exceeded March.

I didn’t notice the spider until after I downloaded the image to Lightroom. — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/4.0, ISO2200), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

For this weekly challenge, I had no idea what to do.

The Japanese word, “komorebi” refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

This week, the governor of New Jersey and the state Jersey Legislature were at an impasse over the state budget. On Friday at midnight, the governor ordered the closing of non-essential state agencies. Everything from state parks to motor vehicle services offices and the Administrative Office of the New Jersey Courts will be closed until further notice. I work as a cybersecurity consultant to the Courts and many of the people I work with (including myself) are concerned.

Komorebi — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

Early on Saturday morning, after dropping my son off to the farmers’ market I drove over to the Rock Brook and parked my car along Hollow Road. The sky was partly cloudy but it seemed there was a chance of rain.

Looking down at the Rock Brook — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

Rock Brook is one of my favourite places. With the rains the woods have grown green and lush. On this trip, I documented my steps from the edge of the Sourland Mountain Range down to the brook.

The Rock Brook Waterfall — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

The underbrush was thick with some sort of grass. I thoroughly enjoyed the komorebi. The Japanese word, “komorebi” refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. I find it fascinating that the Japanese culture has created a single word to capture that feeling.

The Rock Brook — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (11 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

I walked down to the “waterfall” enjoying the sound of rushing water and the sweet smell of the gentle morning breeze. Step by step, I made my way down to the water, stopping to snap some photos along the way.

“Shinrinyoku” (“forest bathing”) is a Japanese word which means to go deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful for relaxation.

Between photos, I stood or sat to enjoy the sounds of the wind in the trees and just take things in. My steps were slow. I wanted to enjoy each moment of my shinrinyoku. I dipped my shoes1 in and enjoyed the sensation of the water running between my toes. The water in the stream was clear and cool. I noticed some fish, about six inches in size, slowly swimming about. Smaller fish darted around between the pebbles.

Rocks — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

Stepping among the rocks I suddenly realized that, perhaps subconsciously, I had photographed the theme for the week.

Tuesday Photo Challenge Steps — Nikon D5100 + Nikon Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 @ (16 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2017-07-01 Khürt L. Williams

After snapping all the photos I wanted, I stood for a while in the middle of the brook, with my eye closed and enjoyed the sound of the wind in the trees and the water flowing past my feet.

Peace.

Created by photographer Frank Jansen, the Tuesday Photo Challenge is a weekly theme-based challenge for photographers of all kinds to share both new and old photography.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” shinrin-yoku.org

One of the things I enjoy about photography is helpful and encouraging people I have come to know over the years. Some have become good friends and while many more are acquaintances, I always enjoy an opportunity to meet and connect with other photographers. One of my favourite activities is the photo walk.

It’s been almost 9 months since my friend Prasanna and I decided to put together a last-minute photo walk. The weather was changing and the colours of autumn were everywhere. We wanted to catch some fall colour before the leaves all turned brown.

Our plan was simple. Walk until we find moving water.

Prasanna — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (55 mm, f/5.6, ISO100), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
Shinrinyiku — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (18 mm, f/3.5, ISO100), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
Walk this way — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (44 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
Looking straight up — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (28 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (18 mm, f/8.0, ISO100), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
The fall carpet of the Sourlands, Skillman, New Jersey. — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (55 mm, f/5.6, ISO400), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
Green Trees — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (18 mm, f/8.0, ISO400), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
Rock Brook in the Eastern Sourland Mountain Range — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (18 mm, f/8.0, ISO400), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams
The Sourland Mountains — Nikon D5100 + Nikon 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ (18 mm, f/4.5, ISO400), Copyright 2014-10-25 Khürt L. Williams