Forest Bathing and Forest Braining

The main reason that we do this work is because Nature makes us feel better. We know how being in Nature positively affects our mental health. We have discovered the unique rejuvenating, soothing properties of just being and breathing in the forest, sharing our breath (and our thoughts) with the trees – they are great listeners!

When we simplify life and slow down healing happens – Our minds de-stress, our brains immediately respond and carry out a reset, or reboot.

Brain scans show that time spent in Nature is positively related to grey matter in the cerebral cortex. This part of the cortex is involved in the planning and regulation of actions as well as what is referred to as cognitive control. In addition, many psychiatric disorders are known to be associated with a reduction in grey matter in the prefrontal area of the brain.

“Results show that our brain structure and mood improve when we spend time outdoors. This most likely also affects concentration, working memory, and the psyche as a whole” says Simone Kühn, head of the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and lead author of the study.[1]

One of the key regions of the brain that has been studied to understand the impact of Nature v urban exposure is the Amygdala. This remarkable, small, almond shaped/sized structure at the base of the brain is responsible for many aspects of our survival mechanisms, stress processing and is associated with how we process emotions, and emotional episodic recall. It is the deepest most primitive part of the Limbic system from the Latin Limbus meaning “border” or “edge” and from where we get liminality.

The Amygdala and Limbic system form the head brain aspects of the ‘Savage Self’ hypothesis, drawing on present and past life memories to support survival of the individual, initiating defence responses to perceived threat.

The Amygdala has reciprocal communications with the Hypothalamus and the HPA or Hypothalamic-Pituitary–Adrenal-Axis. This is closely associated with our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) – Are you still with me? The Amygdala is also closely associated with our senses particularly smell and memory associations. The little Amygdala can basically trigger a chain of reactions based on fear and anxiety connected to our memories and recall. It’s the Vagus nerve that conveys the (sometimes false) information to the SNS switching on our fight or flight response.

Even a short exposure to nature decreases amygdala activity, suggesting that a walk in Nature could serve as a preventive measure against developing mental health problems and buffering the potentially degenerating impact of the city on the brain.

Studies and MRI scans have shown that as little as 1 hour of walking[2] in Nature can positively impact areas of the brain and in particular the Amygdala with women showing better results than men.[3] Being in Nature supports the brain to de-stress – the brain recognises Nature and reconfigures neural stress response settings for homeostasis.

One can immediately understand that the long term benefits of Forest Bathing and Nature Connection can help to regulate brain chemistry and decrease mental health issues that arise from recurrent trauma memories by creating a soothing environment that can switch off excessive Amygdala activity.

In our next article we will look at how Nature’s Intelligence – ‘The Forest  Brain’ operates and look at how closely our brains have evolved in parallel with our other-than-human kin over millions of years.


[2] Ibid.


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