Spending time in the woods—or shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”)—has been proven to significantly strengthen our immune system and increase our overall happiness. The forest air triggers our bloodstream to produce 40 percent more natural killer cells, which help fight harmful viruses, bacteria, and other illnesses. The tradition of forest bathing goes back a long time in Japan’s folk medicine, but it has its longest history in China and Taiwan and has been called senlinyu there for centuries.
Ancient knowledge about healing from nature is also found in traditional Chinese medicine. Numerous exercises from qigong are designed to “absorb the chi of nature” and are carried out mainly in forests or green areas with trees. Even the qigong masters of the past apparently knew that nature not only heals in the form of plant- and mineral-based pharmaceutical substances, but also by a person simply being present in a green space and breathing. In qigong, absorbing the chi of nature is always associated with breathing techniques.
Xiaoqiu Li, a two-time Chinese state champion in wushu (traditional Chinese martial arts), taught me the following exercise for “whole-body breathing.” This specific exercise helps you to take in the healthy forest air quite intensely and to release old air and harmful substances very consciously. You will especially feel the purifying effects of this exercise in your body if you are a smoker or live in a polluted city.
Look for a place in the woods that appeals to you and that has an even surface to stand on, and then follow these steps:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and as parallel to each other as possible, with your knees slightly bent and arms relaxed at your sides.
- “Open” your chest cavity by lifting your arms up in the air away from your body, in the form of a circle overhead, as if you were a tree revealing its mighty crown to the sky. Take a deep breath in while doing this, starting in your stomach and continuing to fill up your chest with air.
- When your arms meet over your head, guide them down in front of your body, holding them together and parallel to each other. Simultaneously begin to breathe out, making fists with your hands while squatting down.
- At the end of these movements, slowly press your elbows against your body at stomach level. This pressing of the elbows and curving of your body help your lungs to empty themselves entirely.
- Repeat these movements slowly and mindfully and try to make everything as smooth as possible.
Excerpted from The Biophilia Effect: A Scientific and Spiritual Exploration of the Healing Bond Between Humans and Nature by Clemens G. Arvay.
Born in 1980, Clemens G. Arvay is an Austrian engineer and biologist. He studied landscape ecology (BSc) at Graz University and applied plant sciences (MSc) at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. Arvay examines the relationship between humans and nature, focusing on the health-promoting effects of contact with plants, animals, and landscapes. He also addresses a second range of topics that includes ecologically produced food along with the economics of large food conglomerates. Clemens G. Arvay has written numerous books, including his bestseller The Biophilia Effect. For more, please visit clemensarvay.com.
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