February is here and with it comes love songs and roses and heart-shaped everything. It’s also American Heart Month, making it the perfect time to show your heart some love. Here in Volcano, Hawai’i, one of our favorite ways to get our heart pumping and improve overall health is by forest bathing in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. If you’ve never tried forest bathing, here’s what you need to know!
In the 1980s, the term shinrin-yoku (forest bathing or taking in the forest atmosphere) emerged in Japan as a form of eco-therapy. The practice was quickly embraced as both an antidote to the stress of our high-tech world and a way to unplug from technology and reconnect with nature. And it didn’t take long for forest bathing to catch on here in Hawai’i, as Hawaiian culture prioritizes a deep connection to the`aina (land).
If going to the gym and virtual fitness classes aren’t your thing, you’ll appreciate the physiological and psychological benefits of forest bathing. A recent meta study in Japan involving 732 participants proved that blood pressure levels in a forest environment were significantly lower than those in a non-forest environment, affirming that forest bathing decreases blood pressure, which is key to maintaining a healthy heart.
According to Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a professor at Japan’s Chiba University and expert on forest bathing research, the result of forest walks at a leisurely pace is a 12.4% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, compared with urban walks. Participants in his research also report reduced anxiety.
What’s more, forest bathing can be a mood booster and immune system booster. The next time you talk a walk in the forest, make sure to take deep breaths and inhale the phytoncides (essential oils) that trees emit. Studies by shinrin yoku researcher Qing Li reveal that phytoncides activate cells in our bodies that fight disease.
Ready to forest bathe in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park? Leave Spotify behind and don’t even think about running. To truly reap the benefits of forest bathing, silence your phone and listen. Slow down and observe what the forest sounds and smells like. You may even want to find a spot where you can sit beside a tree and close your eyes. Feel the breeze on your skin. Open your eyes and watch the trees’ branches sway in the wind. Notice your stress melting away!
To enjoy one of our favorite places to forest bathe in the park, begin at Devastation Trailhead and enjoy a four to five hour hike. Highlights of this scenic, round-trip hike are Uēaloha (Byron Ledge), Kīlauea Iki loop, and Nāhuku Lava Tube, and of course the forest you’ll pass through along the way.
For a hike that will immerse you in the magic of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s rainforest, you can’t miss Kīpukapuaulu. Essentially an island floating in a sea of hardened lava, a kīpuka is an area of land surrounded by younger lava flows. And in Kīpukapuaulu, the kīpuka of native forest is surrounded by more recent lava from Mauna Loa’s Keamoku flow. Here, forest bathing means connecting with old-growth trees in the park’s first Special Ecological Area.
Tutu Lorna’s Tip: Communing with nature is spiritual and it happens to be good for your mental and physical health, too. The more you spend time in nature, the more you love nature and want to care for it.
Take it from Tutu Lorna and immerse yourself in Volcano’s beautiful forest surroundings. Forest bathing is not just for the wilderness-enthusiasts. The practice can also be a unique and romantic way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! If you’re ready to unplug, reconnect, and reap the benefits of forest bathing during your Hawai’i Island vacation, we highly recommend a visit to Volcano. Our historic cottages are conveniently located in Volcano Village, just minutes away from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. In fact, the Volcano Heritage Cottages are so close to the rainforest that you can see the ferns and trees every time you look out the window, so book your Big Island forest bathing vacation today!