Inspired by the Japanese practice Shinrin Yoku or Forest Bathing, Sydney's Centennial Parklands is promoting the health benefits of connecting with nature.
The Nature Connection Walk offers guided meditation sessions in the parklands with research suggesting it boosts immunity, relaxes the nervous system, decreases heart rate and increases cancer-killing cells.
Certified nature and forest therapy guide Louise Kiddell is currently conducting a four week meditation program.
“The parts of the brain that control fear and anxiety are active in urban spaces… but connecting with nature relaxes our whole physiology. Mood and immunity are clearly interlinked,” Ms Kiddell said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 100,000 people moved into Sydney last year adding to the urban squeeze and less opportunity to connect with nature.
‘Shinrin Yoku’, or forest bathing, was introduced by the Japanese Government as a response to high suicide rates and is now recognised worldwide as a stress management and relaxation activity.
Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness’ran a series of blood tests in 2005 on participants taking the meditative walks.
Results showed that Shinrin Yoku increased the activity of cells that kill tumours, known as Natural Killer (NK) cells, by releasing anti-cancer proteins - suggesting the trips “have a preventive effect on cancer generation”.
Forest bathing participants are taken on a sensory awareness walk and encouraged to partake in nature exploration activities, guided meditation and finish with a bush tea ceremony.
Dr. Yoon-Suk Hwang, of Learning Sciences Institute Australia, has investigated mindfulness intervention and reported a range of short- and long-term physiological and psychological health benefits.
“Research has shown reductions in stress, anxiety and blood pressure, and increases in emotion regulation, compassion, and sleep quality to name a few. However, these benefits cannot be expected without ongoing engagement with practice,” she said.
Shane Cody, a 24 year old graphic designer, participated in his first Nature Connection Walk on Tuesday.
“It was a relaxing, sensory experience in nature and helped ease some of my general worries of the day," Mr Cody said.
"I recommend that people see this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness," he said