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Bush kindy’s therapeutic, Japanese roots

Tree-time with kids may be good for all kinds of development, including physical stamina, gross motor skills and risk-management skills. But it also has lesser-known benefits for toddlers and adults alike.

These are captured in what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, meaning ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’. First proposed in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, this practice has numerous proven pacifying effects.

Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki is the Japan’s foremost shinrin-yoku expert. Based at Chiba University, southeast of Tokyo, he has been researching it for decades. As a result of this, he recommends “that people touch nature as much as possible”. He has gone so far as to conclude, in one of his journal articles, that its “results will contribute to the development of a research field dedicated to forest medicine, which may be used as a strategy for preventive medicine”.

International academics have recently followed his lead. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation listed the following forest-immersion benefits, derived from multiple American studies:

  • Boosts immune system.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Reduces stress.
  • Improves mood.
  • Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness.
  • Increases energy level.
  • Improves sleep.

Aside from these advantages, forest therapy has been shown to improve concentration in those with ADHD, including kids. From as far back as 2001, studies, like this one from the American Journal of Public Health, have demonstrated that children are better able to focus in natural, green settings than indoors.

It may sound like magic, but in fact, trees’ calming powers work quite simply. As Miyazaki puts it, “the relaxation effect is brought through [people’s] five senses”. For instance, they smell woods’ essential oils, touch their bark and leaves, and gaze at their vast canopies.

Though it has been around for over thirty years, Westerners are only just catching on to the trend. Some are even touting it as the new yoga. Whether downward dogs will be substituted for leafy strolls remains to be seen. Either way, as even an indoor plant can partly do the job, there’s no excuse to not take Miyazaki’s advice, for your and kids’ mutual benefit.

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