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Book review of “Shinrin-yoku” by Qing Li

It’s time to review a book that you might gladly keep on the bookshelf as a reminder of the important lesson it teaches about the magic of trees - the hardback edition of "Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing" written by the very man who could be considered the founding father of the movement, Dr Qing Li. He is an Associate Professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and an expert on forest-bathing and the president of the Society of Forest Medicine in Japan. He took what was a Japanese tradition of spending time in nature, more specifically forest and gardens, as a health practice and turned it into a scientific discipline. And this, we have him to thank for.

The moment the book arrived, it looked like it could take a proud place next to my Meik Wiking’s “Little Book of Hygge”. They are both part of the Penguin Life collection and it shows; it smelled like a nice book should and was a pure pleasure to touch the quality paper pages as I was slowly turning them over. The book is a mixture of rather large font print and many high quality, carefully selected photographs, and a couple of maps, that do not just complement the text but are an essential part of appreciating the book. I don’t see how an audiobook version could give the ‘reader’ the same kind of experience.

One strange thing about the text was its alignment, where it occupies a quasi-column like part of the page, aligned to the left. The key points are then highlighted (repeated from the main text) in a larger, grey font as if they were in a second column. That bothered me at the start, but it’s easy to get used to. There are also inserts every now and then of personal stories of people’s experiences with forest-bathing. They bring a nice touch of showing how the art of forest-bathing applies to the average person.

The book is divided into four sections. The first part explains how the practice of forest-bathing moved from a Japanese cultures’ art of living to a science. This is where hard-to-convince readers might find a good source of scientific facts that prove that forest-bathing is a medicinal practice (there are plenty of references at the end of the book too). The second part explains how to practice shinrin-yoku, giving very practical clues regarding the details of the therapy. Third part explains how we can bring the forest indoors by using essential oils or house plants. And finally, the fourth section talks about the future of the planet, the forests and human health from the point of view of shinrin-yoku. As a bonus, at the end of the book, there is a POMS (Profile of Mood States) test we can take before and after forest-bathing.

There is no medicine you can take that has such a direct influence on your health as a walk in a beautiful forest.

So what is exactly shinrin-yoku and why is it worth our attention?

It is the practice of spending time in the forest for better health, happiness and productivity. The author studied the effects of forest walks on busy managers from Tokyo and it showed that the beneficial health effects can last as long as thirty days and can be felt after only 20 minutes in nature. Forest bathing is thought to not only improve mood and lower stress, but have many other health benefits such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood-sugar levels, improving pain threshold and boosting the immune system (increased NK cells count) and help to lose weight too.

Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our sense, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

How to properly forest-bathe to reap the most benefits?

The author recommends forest paths that are at least 5km long and should take about 2 hours to thread through. However, even a short walk in a city park is beneficial. Think about walking slowly, leaving all distractions behind and trying to experience the forest with all senses, touching the trees, smelling the flowers, ‘ingesting’ the humid air of a dark forest, and perhaps picking some wild berries, drinking some water from a pure stream or making tea from young pine buds.

Another important aspect is to choose forests with plenty of evergreen conifers, as their essential oils is where part of the benefit resides. Phytoncides, or trees natural oils that function as the trees’ defense mechanism to protect from fungi, bacteria and insects apparently also have a beneficial effect on our immune system when we breath it in. What’s more, using essential oil diffusers at home can have the same effect.

If you want to enhance even more your forest-bathing experience, choose forests paths along rivers, streams, ponds or waterfalls. Water helps to ionize negatively the air and bring our bodies to an electric balance, which has an energizing and refreshing effects and which further translates into higher mental clarity and overall sense of wellbeing. And don’t be afraid of going barefoot to get some grounding and boosting the balancing properties of your forest walk.

The art of forest-bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses.

The recipe is pretty straightforward and should be easy to apply even in the busiest of schedules and apparently unfavorable conditions. It’s as easy as leaving the phone and all distractions at home and going for a walk in the nearest park or forest. Maybe try to bring the kids along too. As the author says, “if we let children into the forest, they will become adults who will protect it”. Also, research shows that spending time in nature makes us more trusting, generous and caring, which are usually the values we would certainly want to teach our children too.

In summary, the book is an easy, inspiring and a relaxing read. The only problem is reading it at home and wanting to get out into the forest right that very moment! Every now and then a new term/concept becomes a hype and everyone seems to be tagging their pictures just to show how #hygge their evenings are or how they have mastered #mindfulness. Perhaps #forestbathing and #shinrinyoku should be next things to adopt and put into practice. I know I am jumping on that bandwagon with both feet.

Sources and picture credits:

Li, Qing (2018) Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing, London: Penguin Random House.

Images:

  1. Weronika Gasior
  2. Weronika Gasior
  3. andrew-charney/ Unsplash
  4. jake-melara/ Unsplash
  5. jordan-whitt/ Unsplash
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Maintenance of green in the city and health

Different initiatives undertaken by the urban authorities can contribute to the improvement of urban dweller’s contact with nature and the nature exposure

These include:

  1. Leaving unmowed areas in the urban green spaces, for developing a small ecosystems for flora & fauna, (urban meadows)
  2. Promoting the spontaneous habitat creation
  3. Leaving the fallen leaves on the ground for the winter (improves conditions of the soil)

These actions, (or rather withdrawing from action) not only improve the urban ecosystems functioning, but also can save some money in the local budget. Most importantly however from our point of view, they improve the sense of connectedness of people with urban nature, by making the changing seasons noticeable, and more pronounced, enabling the observation of the life phases of the plant and ultimately contemplation of the continuous life cycles.

These three postulate  were included in an open letter to the Major of Warsaw, Poland by the local community and proffessionals, and will contribute to the  Greenery Council (Zarzad Zieleni) activities, (see the campaign here ).  Because of the postulates are strongly aligned with the NeuroLandscape’s vision of the city, we support this action, and look forward to positive changes on city lawns!

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April – the World Landscape Architecture Month by ASLA

When I went to my first scientific conference, as a PhD candidate, I was surprised that the main topic of the post-conference discussion was about “what is the landscape architecture?”. For more than 1 hour landscape architects (teachers, academics, and proffessionals) were discussing vividly about what it is that what they do.

I found it funny then… but the more I studied and developed in the area the more I understood that the answer to that question is not so straight forward. To me landscape architecture was the only study discipline, which would join my technical, scientific, artistic and environmental interests. Later it turned out that it can be much more than a job. Today, with my NeuroLandscape NGO I know the landscape architecture can literally change people’s life.

Here’s a little tribute to that beautiful yet neglected discipline. Let’s celebrate the month of Landscape Architecture!

“Landscape Architecture is a profession that is unknown or misunderstood as gardening by many. Its value to society is greater than many can imagine and should be celebrated by the population of every town, city, and country….”

What is landscape architecture?

Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo is the President and Founder of NeuroLandscape. She is a Ph.D. in landscape architecture and urban ecology, who has explored the relationship between the different features of the natural and built environment’s influence on human health and wellbeing. In her research she has successfully incorporated neuroscience tools to investigate the changes in brainwave oscillation in participants exposed to different types of designed landscape. She has introduced and operationalized the term contemplative landscape and proposed a quantitative assessment scale to distinguish landscape views according to which are most beneficial for mental health in terms of passive exposure. She has developed several research projects worldwide and established international research networks across multiple universities. She is an originator of the idea for the VR_HEATHER project, which builds upon her research and is also in line with the statutory goals of NeuroLandscape.

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WHO to fund a systematic review about blue spaces and health

In our ongoing collaboration with the EKLIPSE mechanism, together with Expert Working Group from different European countries and representing various disciplines, we are trying to answer the question:

Which types and components of urban and peri-urban blue / green spaces have a significant impact on human mental health and mental well-being?

EKLIPSE is project funded by the European Union, under “SC5-2015 Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials” scheme. It’s goal is to answer the requested questions in the most comprehensive and scientifically sound form i.e. systematic review.  In the case of the above question the requester is the MInistry in Charge of Environment in France (MTES).

While working on the systematic review for green & blue spaces, the group was contacted by World Health Organization, who offered additional funding for separating the blue spaces into a separate systematic review. The offer was accepted and currently we are working on the soon to be released review of the types and characteristics of the blue spaces and their effect on mental health and well-being.

FInd out more in our projects!

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Follow the awakening in urban green spaces for health!

Our newest publication  XSection Journal features the process of evolution in perception of urban green spaces in terms of the health benefits they can deliver, through a popular “expanding brain meme.

Check out this short article and how to interpret the image here:

https://www.xsectionjournal.com/edition-8/2018/11/22/generations-of-urban-green-for-health-dr-agnieszka-olszewska-guizzo

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RIVER. A powerful landscape component restoring the human nervous system.

The more we know about the interactions between the landscape and human nervous system the better we can plan and design our living environments to serve our health.

With water being the essential component of any form of life, it is not surprising that it also influence our psychophysiological response, even if we are just passively exposed to it.  But what kind of water feature, and what do we have to do with this water to achieve this response? This is a question that scientists (NeuroLandscape included) have been trying to answer.

Let’s concentrate on the river. According to Jungian dream analysis, based on his theory of collective unconscious, the river is a symbol of death and rebirth (baptism), the flowing of time into eternity, transitional phases of the life cycle, and incarnations of deities. In Dr. Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo’s research river is one of the archetypal elements making the landscape “contemplative” and therefore therapeutical.

In the fMRI study from 2017 the team of Prof Chang, Chun-Yen (National Taiwan University) discovered that the passive exposure to the river views alters the brain functioning significantly, when compared to the urban views (see the image above).

The brain activity related to the “urban versus water ” contract was located in the left and right cuneus (Fig. 5).
The cuneus is primarily known for its involvement in basic visual processing. Furthermore, the right cingulate gyrus and left precuneus were also activated. These regions, which are part of Brodmann area 31 (BA31) and known as the dorsal
posterior cingulate cortex, are assumed to influence the focus of attention by adjusting whole-brain metastability (Leech & Sharp, 2014).   – Tang et.al 2017

It looks like there is nothing better for our nerves fatigues from all day in the office or and after several hours commuting through the urban jungle than walk along the riverfront immersing with our senses into the soothing flow of the waters.

 

 

Scientific references:

Olszewska, A. A., Marques, P. F., Ryan, R. L., & Barbosa, F. (2018). What makes a landscape contemplative?. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science45(1), 7-25.

Leech, R., & Sharp, D. J. (2014). The role of the posterior cingulate cortex in cognition and disease. Brain, 137(1), 12–32.

Tang, I. C., Tsai, Y. P., Lin, Y. J., Chen, J. H., Hsieh, C. H., Hung, S. H., … & Chang, C. Y. (2017). Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to analyze brain region activity when viewing landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning162, 137-144.

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A landscape architect’s experience of Chelsea Flower Show 2018 (PART_4)

These three very special gardens of the Chelseas Flower Show 2018, were featured this year on the NeuroLandscape blog:

  1. Feel good garden
  2. Morgan Stanley garden
  3. Lemon Tree Garden

They are a great source of information and inspiration on how to create healthy space through the landscape design, right selection of plants, materials, textures and shapes. This year, the dominant color palette were  definitely different shades of purple. This colour has a powerful impact not only on our mood but also behaviors. It calms and soothes, silences and regenerates the nervous system, enhances creativity and spirituality. It’s best for relaxation. Blues and greens create a calming atmosphere as well.

As a landscape architect, through  visiting this year’s Chelsea gardens I got inspired by some design strategies to create a space that has a positive effect on our well-being and mental health:

  • cool – toned colors of the plants and materials that have a calming and relaxing effect on people’s state of mind (whites, pinks, purples and blues),
  • variety of plants – next to ornamental plants we should remember about aromatic herbs, evergreen species, perennials and grasses, which provides variety of textures during whole year,
  • encouraging wildlife – observing birds can make us more happy and relaxed,
  • creating an interesting route and/or something beautiful to look at and focus on, which will help to forget about everyday stress and problems.

I am very glad that such prestigious show like Chelsea provides people a great opportunity to explore solutions to some of the actual most pressing not only environmental but also social and economic challenges. This year’s gardens are great, healthy places that make people feel very comfortable and at ease, offer spaces that increase social interaction, reduce stress, antisocial behavior and isolation. Luckily, the community awareness of how the public health can be enhanced by increasing access to green and blue space and improving the quality of our natural environment is a growing trend.

We are more and more involved in issues related to green areas in places where we live, ready to fight for better, greener cities to live in and enjoy in the harmony with nature. We look to the future with hope that it will be possible to prevent or slow down the progress of many diseases related to our mental health, looking beyond traditional treatments and medicines, through a range of activities, including gardening and spending time in a high quality, healthy and sustainable green spaces.

Landscape Architect, MLA

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NeuroURBANISM, NeuroARCHITECTURE, NeuroLANDSCAPE!

Many aspects of our lives are far more interlinked than we normally imagine. Breakthroughs in neuroscience have made these links even more sensible than ever.

Read more at the practical design and construction site Houzz, how nouroarchitecture can look like in practice.

Photo credits: #Houzz

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Mental health at the refugees camp @ Chelsea Flower Show 2018 (PART_3)

One of many Chelsea Flower Show Gardens that deserves special attention is The Lemon Tree Garden, which directly referred to the issue of mental health. Inspired by the resilience, originality and determination of refugees living in Domiz camp in Northern Iraq was designed with their involvement and highlights the unexpected beauty and power hidden in the refugee camps. Designer aimed to show how plants can improve people’s wellbeing.

The traditional Islamic style was kept by star shaped water feature, radiating water rills and elaborate metal and wood fretwork screens. Channels of water provide fresh, cooling atmosphere, representing at the same time the importance of reused grey water in the Iraq’s camps. Very simple materials that can be found in real camp such as concrete and steel, were used  . Food plants were placed in cans and recycled plastic bottles attached to a very interesting “innovation wall”.

The planting included the pomegranate trees, figs, single roses, alliums, dazzling blue flowered Anchusa, the impressive lemon tree as well as herbs used in Middle Eastern cooking. These fragrant herbs could have a great impact on mind and mood. All these are reminders of refugees homeland. Resting between them make us more relaxed and smiley.

People in camps create gardens and take care of them with aim to provide food but also to keep themselves in good mental and physical condition. Possibility of growing and taking care of plants, herbs, vegetables is a great chance to socialize what means it improves social functioning and emotional well-being. The garden with its amazing plants can be the gate to escape from cruel reality , bring the solace and positive energy.  The garden is a place that no matter where you are, you can relate to.

The Lemon Tree Trust supports and encourages the refugees to build camp gardens where they can grow food, create sense of beauty; seek and promote, a very important,  community well-being and identity.

Landscape Architect, MLA

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Neuro-urbanism & Neuro-landscape

A new term has officially been introduced in the scientific world – NEUROURBANISM.  It happened together with the  publication in Lancet in Psychiatry in March 2017 [link here].  City life has a lot to do with the psychiatric conditions , and this is the path we have been following in NeuroLandscape as well.

Our cities are growing and we know: City life influences our behavior, our emotions and our psychological well-being. The brain of an urban dweller reacts differently to social stress than that of a rural dweller. Whether this is also the reason for the aggregation of some stress sequelae in cities is a question that we want to answer with Neuro-Urbanism, a new discipline assembling neurologists, urban researchers and architects. 

-Dr Mazda Adli, Director of the Mood Disorders Research Group at the Charité Berlin and Head of the Fliedner Klinik Berlin

We are happy to get involved with the development of this new discipline in regard to urban nature, and the quality of urban environment. We are looking forward to join forces and connect with the interdisciplinary forum of Neurourbanism in Germany.