I pull on my new hiking boots. Gotta break them in — maybe hike a little further down the creek. Winter’s in retreat, although the stream’s still chilly.
I would linger in the warm den of the living room, but Loki’s dying to get out there.
Besides, I’m supposed to write something about “forest bathing.” So I’m not really goofing off — am I?
Neither can I deny I love the sound of the water chattering over rocks.
Loki prefers to follow his nose — looking for an elk carcass or at least a squirrel to harass.
But with the sun on my face, the smell of the trees in my nose, the sounds of birds in my ears, I don’t think too much about what Loki’s up to.
I feel content — soothed.
In short — I’m “forest bathing.”
The concept first popped up in Japan in the 1980s when city folk found they felt better after spending just spending 20 minutes in nature.
The reports of all this unharnessed happiness prompted researchers to launch a herd of studies on the physical and mental benefits of spending time in nature. Turns out, forest bathing reduces stress, perks up the immune system and supports the heart and lungs.
The National Institutes of Health gleaned research from around the world to confirm the benefits of just sitting on some rocks in the river.
In study after study, the health benefits jumped off the page.
• Japanese residents suffering from “acute and chronic stress” reported a reduction in feelings of hostility, depression and anxiety because of spending time in nature.
• Studies in Korea found a significant reduction in pain and depression after “forest bathing.”
• People report spending time in green spaces gives them more energy, good overall health and “a sense of meaningful purpose in life.”
Makes sense. The wind moves through the cottonwoods. The sycamores brood. Somewhere off in the distance, Loki’s barking. Maybe he treed a squirrel.
Why shouldn’t human beings key off of nature? After all, we’ve spent most of our time there.
Humans have spent “less than 0.01% of the species’ history in modern surroundings and the other 99.99% of the time living in nature,” wrote the NIH report. “It is no wonder some humans yearn and are drawn back to where human physiological/psychological functions began and were naturally supported.”
But humans also love their couches. So now some doctors write prescriptions for walks in nature.
A cardiologist founded a whole movement after he got frustrated his patient would not go for a walk. Walk with a Doc started in 2005 and now has expanded into 500 chapters.
In another program, Park Rx America, doctors write prescriptions for picnics or forest therapy sessions for patients.
I don’t need a prescription, just a too-full-of-energy malamute to get up off the couch.
But all good things must come to an end.
It’s time for dinner, so I rise from my little island of granite amid the musically flowing stream and I call Loki — over and over.
Dang, he must be gnawing on a bone.
“Loki! Really, it’s time to go!”
He bounds out of the brush behind me and dashes past, banging into my knee in a great spray of water.
I flail, step off the rock and end up standing in the ice-cold stream up to my knees. My new hiking boots fill with water.
Loki looks back at me curiously.
OK. I guess you can carry forest bathing too far.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org