The magic of forest baths

Photo credit: Rachel Claire

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

While we may have written more posts about the hazards of noise to our health and well-being, we have also included posts stressing the importance of quiet in our lives. We’ve mentioned that quiet is often found in the time we spend surrounded by trees, plants and the wonderful sounds of birds. In this NPR segment, host Marielle Segarra speaks of the forest as a “magical place” where we view trees towering over us as well as spiders weaving webs, and where we hear the birdsongs. Forests allow us to use our senses to feel better and calmer.

Segarra informs us of studies that have shown that forests can facilitate the working of our immune cells and improve our overall health. Gary Evans, director of the Forest Bathing Institute, said that data show that when we come into contact with trees, our parasympathetic system — the relaxing response of our bodies — is activated. Evans goes on to say that while we may survive without being exposed to forests, this should not be mistaken for thriving. His institute leads group trips into forests and he’s found that the health benefits of a visit may last for a month and the trips can help with grief.

Evans informs us that if we live in cities, we can benefit from nearby parks and trees. I live on the Upper East Side near the river and a park and can attest to how comforted I feel on my walks along the river and in the park. This was especially true when COVID was at its height.  

Segarra also interviewed Lucretia VanDyke, author of “African American Herbalism: A Practical Guide to Healing Plants and Folk Traditions.” VanDyke lives in New Orleans and said that when she spends time in nature and around trees, she is given the opportunity to think about the “folks who came before you.”  She said she imagines how these people built the birthplace of jazz. 

I suggest our readers listen to the segment or read the transcript, which may encourage them to seek out parks or quiet areas in their communities. 

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