A woman sits in her living room, using a peddler and surrounded by plants. The plants are creating an indoor jungle, and popping out of her TV screen.

Forest Bathing

By definition, forest bathing is immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way. The term (shinrin-yoku) originated in Japan, acknowledging that time spent with nature relieves stress and is very healing. Studies show there is an improvement in blood pressure, heart rate, and mental health.1

I first came across the term in an app I use for exercising called Treadmill Trails. It takes me through various thirty-minute walks in natural settings. My two favorites are the paths throughout Central Park in New York City and trails through the Alps in Switzerland.

I tried watching television while using my peddler but didn’t enjoy it. I have written before that I do not like to exercise. By watching these nature videos, I can immerse myself in the beautiful scenery, finding a sense of calm, instead of concentrating on a task I dislike.

Alternative methods

Most of us with COPD won’t be walking through forests or hiking trails. We can still benefit from other activities of connecting with nature. I have a screened porch overlooking my backyard. I have quite a few plants on the porch and greenery in the yard. It is peaceful and a habitat for many birds and squirrels and chipmunks. Even a small apartment balcony can be turned into a personal retreat with plants, potted shrubbery, a water fountain, and a comfortable chair.

House plants also provide a beneficial atmosphere of nature. If I am having a few bad days of breathing, I find it easier to take care of plants if they are grouped together in one area. I also like the forest or garden effect rather than scattering them throughout my home. Having a nature corner to retreat to when the weather doesn’t allow me to be outdoors Is a wonderful way to de-stress.

Gardening is not only great exercise but also a way to unplug from the daily stress of managing COPD. Getting our hands into the dirt, feeling the earth, and tending to another living thing is therapeutic and gratifying.

Bending and stretching in a garden can be difficult on breathing, as well as our joints as we age. There are many tools to help with that. A good garden stool or bench, raised beds, containers, and tools with extension handles are invaluable.

Stay connected

Forest bathing isn’t just about nature. It is also about being present with it. Put down the phone and the camera. Pay attention to the plants that surround you, whether on a trail, a balcony or a corner of your home. Sit and relax, taking in the sights and the sounds.

You can also add pictures of nature and sounds of birds or rainfall. Take a virtual walk like I do with videos. Coloring or painting nature scenes allows us to connect mentally. Get up early and watch the sunrise or pay attention to the colors of the sunset. Even if we can’t get out much, there are so many ways to stay connected with nature.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” —John Burroughs

Let’s talk about it

Do you garden or go for walks? Do you have a way to keep nature in your life? Even if you live in a large city, do you go to the park? I would love to find out your thoughts about connecting with nature and how it can help.

Editor's Note: We are heartbroken to share that Carol passed away in February of 2022. Carol's storytelling and advocacy will be deeply missed, but her legacy lives on through her articles and in all the people she inspired.

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