I recently was reading a study that touted the mental and health benefits of taking a walk in the woods. The article stated that the Japanese actually have a special word for a walk in the woods, shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to “forest bathing.” How perfect is this description!

Living in Steamboat, most everyone knows the immediate sense of relief when we forgo the busy bike paths and streets and take a trip into our beautiful woods. Our souls are lighter and more free. Gone are the distractions of our busy and over-scheduled lives, and we are free to enjoy the magic of the moment. I have had this sense many times, whether it’s a walk in the wilderness or a ski through the ethereal aspens, the peace brings a calm to my mind and spirit.

The physical and mental benefits of a walk extend beyond the immediate sense of reprieve and actually have lasting benefits that can improve your quality of life. Here are a few interesting facts I’ve encountered while reading up on walking in the woods:

The trees tug at us
In our technologically obsessed lives, we are constantly using our “voluntary” attention, which requires our constant focus and leaves us mentally drained and cognitively depleted. According to a study by Dr. Berman in Toronto, a simple walk in the woods allows our “involuntary” attention to be grabbed by nature and its simple beauty. It doesn’t require our intent focus but rather moves us in an innate, natural way. Your mind is free to wander and be captivated by the beauty.

The trees heal us
In Dr. Berman’s study, he elaborated on the Japanese study of shinrin-yoku and the healing properties of the woods. Researches have found that our immune systems are enhanced by the essential oils that trees naturally emit. Additionally, our cells’ natural functions are improved as our mental and physical stress diminishes. Simply put: Your body is free to heal and perform as it’s meant to!

The trees are natural
This might seem like an obvious comment. But the reality is that throughout nature — whether it be trees, mountains, meadows or rivers — everything is unique and fractal. Nothing is uniform or constructed by an urban planner. Nature’s geometric balance allows the mind to relax and allows for a restorative process. It’s this balance that allows the mind to turn off and be involuntarily moved.

So the next time you are feeling exhausted from life’s hectic strain, go enjoy our beautiful woods.

Above all, please remember to respect the sanctuary of our wilderness!