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The Forest’s Healing Powers: Something Horsemen Have Always Known

Japanese Practice of Forest Bathing and Its Health Benefits

Forest Bathing Shinrin You
Healing Forest Bathing or Sinrin Yoku

The practice of Shinrin Yoku, or “forest bathing,” has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japan and South Korea. The simple practice of walking under a canopy of trees has scientifically proven health benefits to include:

  • Boosted immune system functioning
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

By adopting the practice on a regular basis, these health benefits include increased energy and other more intangible life quality improvements. Indeed, this realization that nature has a calming and healing influence on humans is nothing new. It’s been chronicled by scientists and writers alike, from John Muir to Henry David Thoreau.

Natural Stress Reduction According to Modern Scientific Studies

Frontiers in Psychology recently published an article on the stress reducing benefits of a twenty-minute walk based on a study by the University of Michigan. According to the article, Travel and Leisure reported the basis of the study as follows:

The study rounded up participants, asking them to take a walk for 10 minutes or more, at least 3 times a week. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured using saliva swabs both before and after the so-called “nature pill.” The study found that after the walks cortisol was cut by 10 percent on average.

“Participants were free to choose the time of day, duration, and the place of their nature experience,” said Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study. “Building personal flexibility into the experiment, allowed us to identify the optimal duration of a nature pill, no matter when or where it is taken, and under the normal circumstances of modern life, with its unpredictability and hectic scheduling.”

Nature could be defined by the participants as anywhere where they feel they’re interacting with a natural setting. If you live in a city, even a small park, a patch of grass, or any area with trees can suffice.

Trail Riding Provides Similar Health Benefits for Both Human and Horse

Horse people have known for generations that getting out in nature has stress-reducing benefits. Just being around the barn, the pasture, horses, and other “barn critters” lowers heart rate, distracts the mind from worries, and reduces anxiety. Is it the earthy smells? The natural sunlight? The sound of bird song? Whatever the magic ingredient, horse lovers can confirm that being around horses and especially out in the woods for a trail ride has enormous and far reaching healing qualities. Research has shown that people who ride, groom, or spend significant time around horses have reduced stress hormones in their system. There is some evidence they even live longer lives. What’s good for the human is good for the horse as well. Riding on the trails is often a welcome change of scenery for the horse and a nice mental break from more structured work.

trail horseback riding nature therapy
Trail riding as therapy

Reach for Your Saddle or Your Hiking Boots For a Stress-Reducing Solution

Therefore, in conjunction with other stress-reducing methods, you may want to try a walk in the woods. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and can be done without an appointment. And it’s even better if you can bring along an equine or canine friend.

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