Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese healing art impacting the modern world because of its incredible benefits to the mind, soul & body. There are some incredible benefits to be found in nature, especially people suffering from mental anxiety, depression and even cancer
“When the solution is simple, God is answering.”
– Albert Einstein
On April 15, 2020, when most of the world was under shelter-in-place orders due to the global health crisis, Roger Seheult, MD of published his Update 56: What is “Forest Bathing” & Can It Boost Immunity Against Viruses? On YouTube.(1)
It was a fascinating presentation. Dr. Seheult suggested that spending too much time indoors & extended quarantine would have ill effects on our health and lectured on what Stanford University School of Medicine, as well as several other medical schools and institutions in Japan, have uncovered in regards to “phytoncides” (i.e. the volatile organic compounds that make up the essential oils that we know and love). (2, 3, 4)
Table of Contents
Introduction to Forest Bathing
This was when I was formally introduced to the ancient healing art of “forest bathing” (the ancient Japanese practice of simply “being in nature”). Shinrin-yoku (shinrin meaning “forest,” and yoku meaning “bath” in Japanese) refers to immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere and enjoying nature through your senses.
Not to be confused with hiking or any sort of exercise, the key to shinrin-yoku is to connect with nature through your six senses. Considered a bridge between the human experience and the natural world, one of the key components of forest bathing is being submersed in nature as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are being emitted by the surrounding trees and plants. And, as we so we know, those VOCs are essential oils.
As shown in multiple clinical trials, the naturally occurring VOCs released can have a profound, measurable effect on enhancing immune function by increasing natural killer cell (NK cells) quantity and activity among other health benefits. As white blood cells that support immune function NK cells are a component of the first line of defense against cancer, inflammation, and virus infections. (5, 6)
Essentially, being out in nature is synonymous with wearing a cancer-fighting personal aromatherapy inhaler or diffuser necklace. As you may guess it, when they evaluated how study participants fared when placed indoors with aromatherapy diffusers running, they found a similar effect!
We can, quite literally, bring the outside in with essential oils and obtain the same beneficial constituents that trees and plants release during forest bathing. And in doing so, we reap their powerful benefits: fight cancer, uplift our mood, calm the nervous system, treat illnesses, and strengthen the immune system.
And this became the springboard for our newest book, The Essential Oils Apothecary.
Introducing The Essential Oils Apothecary
Soothing practices, healing rituals, and 150+ practical recipes for applying essential oils to the treatment and symptom management of 25 chronic illnesses, including insomnia, libido, fibromyalgia, COPD, anxiety, depression, diabetes. dementia. and more—by the bestselling author of The Healing Power of Essential Oils.
Forest Bathing Revealed
Shinrin-yoku was first coined by Tomohide Akiyama, the Director of the Japanese Forestry Agency, in 1982 as a way to attract people to visit local forests. The Japanese characters for Shinrin-yoku are 森林浴.
- The first character represents a forest (three trees).
- The second character symbolizes a wood
- The third character corresponds with bathe (flowing water on the left of the character and a valley on the right side of the character).
When translated into English, Shinrin-yoku means “forest bathing”, the practice of slowly and mindfully walking in a forest environment to stimulate all six senses.
- Smelling aromatic flowers and the VOCs (i.e. the essential oils) being omitted from trees and plants.
- Touching blades of grass, putting your hand on the bark of a tree or cooling your feet in a nearby stream.
- Listening to the wind whistling, birds chirping, rustling leaves, or a babbling brook.
- Looking at the sacred geometry and patterns found in leaves, tree trunks, and all around you.
- Tasting the fresh air as you take in deep breaths or chewing on a blade of grass or wild herb.
- And submerging yourself completely in the experience to release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have truly connected with nature.
This ancient practice only recently got on the radar of Japanese scientists to research the physiological and psychological outcomes of experiencing nature. (7)
The Japanese take forest bathing very seriously. It has been part of their culture unofficially for thousands of years and is now part of their health care
To quantify the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku, scientists in 2010 conducted field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. In each evaluation, 12 people walked in and experienced a forest or city area. On the first day, six people were sent to a forest or city area for 15 minutes. On the second day, each group was sent to the other area as a cross-evaluation. Salivary cortisol (i.e the stress hormone), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability were measured before and after visiting the forest or city.
The results were fascinating: they revealed that being out in nature reduced stress (lowered cortisol levels), reduced pulse rate, reduced blood pressure, stimulated an increase of parasympathetic nerve activity (i.e. the “rest and digest” healing state), and decreased sympathetic nerve activity (i.e. the “fight and flight” inflammation-producing state) compared to visiting the city. (8)
More recent studies suggest that the key is too long-lasting effects is to forest bathe for at least two hours. In fact, one two-hour forest bathing session has been shown to elevate NK cells for more than 30 days! It also has been shown to contribute to overall wellness, positive mood, robust immune function, anxiety management, and the ability to promote mental acuity.
More Practical Solutions to Modern Problems
We spend most of our time indoors and that’s a problem – a BIG problem. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of their life indoors and that number has shot way up because of the current health crisis that we’re in as people are quarantining and sheltering-in-place.
By 2050, 66% of the world’s population is projected to be urban, (9) and the recent health crisis outbreak has given us a glimpse of the health concerns humanity needs to consider as it continues to separate itself from nature.
The take-home message here is to consider how the studies mentioned above were conducted in nature – as forest bathing may fall into the category of additional things we can do (and that don’t cause harm) to potentially help prevent viral infections and empower our bodies with cancer-killing NK cells.
Now, I understand that most people cannot (and should not) spend all day in nature. Unless it’s your job to do so. We need to work, do household chores, and take care of our families and businesses. That’s a given. But we all have the time to go on a day hike once a month at a nearby forest, state, or national park and spend a couple of hours outside.
During the week, when you’re toiling away at work going from one video conference call to another, consider bringing the forest inside your house to tap into the healing benefits of forest bathing:
- Diffuse tree essential oils like pine, cypress, sandalwood, frankincense, spruce, Douglas fir, and myrrh.
- Replace toxic chemical home and body products with DIY cleaners and body care made with essential oils
- Listen to sounds of nature through your TV and electronic devices (there are tons of free options on YouTube and Apple Music).
- Hang nature paintings and pictures on the wall, and fill your house with real plants.
- Chew on some fresh herbs throughout the day.
- Keep your windows and doors open when possible to enjoy the fresh air.
- Be sure to take regular breaks throughout the day to get your vitamin D through the sunlight.
- And, spend some time grounding barefoot on the grass or dirt.
Putting these forest bathing benefits into practice is a form of “biohacking” as you will literally produce more NK cells as a direct response of stimulating the six senses with tree therapy. It’s like pressing an on-demand cancer-fighting button all day, every day.
And, as we’ve learned so far, essential oils are a key component of this lifestyle!
Beat Chronic Disease with Forest Bathing & Essential Oils
This is just the beginning of the research we uncovered when writing The Essential Oils Apothecary. The book includes 150+ advanced strategies & protocols for Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, COPD, depression, epilepsy, fatty liver, fibromyalgia, insomnia, heart disease, substance abuse & more.
The Cancer Connection
In The Essential Oils Apothecary we devote an entire chapter to the most cutting-edge research explaining just how essential oils can help us all avoid and successfully manage cancer. Here are some of the key takeaways.
First off, essential oils have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to help manage the many side effects and co-morbidities of cancer: anxiety, depression, fatigue, immune compromise, low libido, obesity, pain, stress, and more. They can also be used to fight cancer directly.
How exactly can they do this?
Through a variety of mechanisms, according to a study published in the BioMed Research International journal,
- EOs and their constituents act by multiple pathways and mechanisms involving apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, antimetastatic and antiangiogenic, increased levels of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS/RNS), DNA repair modulation, and others to demonstrate their antiproliferative activity in the cancer cell. The effect of EOs and their constituents on tumor suppressor proteins (p53 and Akt), transcription factors (NF-ÞB and AP-1), MAPK-pathway, and detoxification enzymes like SOD, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione reductase has also been discussed. (10)
Here’s one of the charts that we feature in The Essential Oils Apothecary, which is a snapshot of just a fraction of the research that has been done suggesting that essential oils and their constituents can help fight cancer and protect the body from the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiation. (Tip: when you order the book and redeem the bonuses, you’ll get instant access to the full printable chart!)
As you’ll notice, we mainly included the essential oils that you can readily find on the market. Additionally, there are dozens of other studies evaluating African basil, Brazilian peppertree, mojo berry or kenaf (also known as Hibiscus cannabinus), and many oils indigenous to native cultures that have been tested for the chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic efficacy.It’s important to recognize that none of these studies evaluated human cancer patients under a clinical trial setting with a control group.
Note, all of these studies were human cell, in vitro, or animal evaluations. Thus, we cannot extrapolate dosing and other specific recommendations as we can with the other diseases discussed in this book.
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that we’ll get to see the results of an actual clinical trial evaluating cancer patients because researchers and ethics committees would deem it too dangerous to withhold medical treatment on a human volunteer to test how aromatherapy would fare against chemo or radiation.
Nonetheless, essential oils are just one of many natural therapies that you can discuss with your oncologist, and we include an in-depth section in The Essential Oils Apothecary on how to use aromatherapy for cancer’s side effects.
The Healing Prowess of D-limonene
The most prominent and noteworthy component of citrus oils is d-limonene, confirmed to be a potent mood booster and cancer-fighting agent. As described in the US National Library of Medicine’s open chemistry database, PubChem: “D-limonene is an oral dietary supplement containing a natural cyclic monoterpene and the major component of the oil extracted from citrus peels with potential chemopreventive and antitumor activities.” (11)
So basically, the limonene found in citrus and other essential oils can fight tumor growth by causing cancer cells to literally self-destruct. This suicide-triggering process is called apoptosis, also referred to as programmed cell death.
Citrus oils also help stimulate dopamine production and are known anti-depressants and anxiolytics (i.e. fights anxiety)
Application: try these two recipes featured in The Essential Oils Apothecary.
Recipe #1: Citrus Delight Blend
There is no better approach than citrus oils when it comes to boosting mood and promoting a cancer-fighting lifestyle. They are literally liquid antidepressants, which is why you’ll see most essential oil companies blend several together with a sweet floral like vanilla to create an orange-vanilla reminiscent of those “Dreamsicles” or “Creamsicles” everyone loves! Try mixing equal parts of vanilla absolute (or vanilla CO2) and all of the citrus oils that you have on hand for a truly uplifting aromatic experience.
- 10 drops orange essential oil
- 10 drops bergamot essential oil
- 10 drops clementine essential oil
- 10 drops grapefruit lemon essential oil
- 10 drops lemon essential oil
- 10 drops mandarin essential oil
- 10 drops tangerine essential oil
- 10 drops vanilla absolute, CO2, or oleoresin
- 5 ml bottle
- Drop the essential oils into a 5ml bottle, cap, and shake to mix.
- Depending on the type and source of vanilla that you use, it may overpower the citrus oils, so start with a few drops and blend until you find that perfect smell that perks you up and puts a smile on your face.
- Use in your diffuser, roll-ons, and capsules.
Recipe #2: Citrus Delight Spritzer
- 10 drops Citrus Delight Blend
- 10 drops organic 190-proof grain alcohol
- 10 drops witch hazel
- Distilled water, as needed
- 1-ounce spray bottle
- Drop the oil blend, grain alcohol, and witch hazel in the bottle.
- Fill with distilled water and shake gently to mix well.
- This works great as a body spray or to freshen up your linens, carpet, car floor mats, bed sheets, or anywhere that you want an aromatic boost. (Be sure to test a small area first to prevent staining.)
NOTE: This water-based formula will last for a couple of weeks. We’ve used it for as long as two months and have not noticed bacterial overgrowth, which can hap- pen with any water-based product. It may not be obvious at first, but the smell will become rancid, and you will notice a change in color if it is contaminated.
Thousands of testimonials and case studies alone should awaken us to the realization that essential oils can be quite effective in helping cancer patients. And, as long as there are no dangerous adverse reactions, what’s the risk in trying?
At this point, an increasing number of doctors support the use of natural therapies such as essential oils as an adjunct to their standard of care—not to mention if you’re working with an integrative oncologist. With them, the sky’s the limit!
I invite you to pick up a copy of The Essential Oils Apothecary to learn more.
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