Forest Bathing Benefits for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Your Nervous System
How are you feeling today?
Take a minute to check in with yourself.
If you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), these little checks are active steps to calm down your nervous system and your mast cells.
That’s because stress is a bigger mast cell trigger than most people have any idea about.
Take a minute right now. Are you holding your breath? Are your shoulders tense or is your brow furrowed? Is your pulse rate fast due to a high stress level?
If yes, it might be time for a bath. A forest bath.
The name “forest bath” brings to mind an image of a porcelain tub filled with warm water out in the middle of the woods. Kind of a funny image!
But forest bathing is something very different!
So, if it’s not a bath you take in a bathtub, what exactly is forest bathing? And how can it help with stress and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?
Let’s look at that next. Then I’ll share more with you about:
- Benefits of forest bathing
- How forest bathing can help with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
- How to create a forest bathing practice
- My personal tips for making forest bathing safer and more comfortable all year round
I hope you’ll enjoy learning about this practice!
First up, let’s look at the question: What is forest bathing?
What is Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku?
People have enjoyed natural environments for recreation and rejuvenation for a long time. This isn’t anything new.
But the term forest bathing only came about in 1982.
It originated in Japan as a practice to help combat technology burnout.
In Japanese, it’s called shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means forest and yoku means bath. Together: forest bath.
So, what exactly is forest bathing if it’s not a tub filled with water?
Forest bathing means taking in the forest through all your senses.
This is different than exercise such as hiking or jogging in the woods.
Forest bathing is simply connecting to nature through your awareness of what you see, smell, touch, hear and even taste.
Were you in a national park surrounded by majestic redwood trees? Were you out in the country strolling through a grove of fruit trees? Or were you under palm trees on the beach?
Hold that image in your mind for a few moments and remember how it made you feel to be out in nature. What details do you remember?
How were your senses engaged?
Do you remember the sun pouring in through the treetops in crisp, diagonal lines? Or maybe you remember the way a yellow leaf fell from a tree above you.
Do you remember the forest air, clean and refreshing as you breathed it in?
What did you smell? Did you get gentle hints of apple blossoms or honeysuckle?
What did you hear? A gently trickling creek? Were there bird whistles or branches cracking under the weight of a squirrel?
How did your toes feel on warm sand or cool grass?
When you are out in nature, engaging all your senses like this is what forest bathing is all about.
I mentioned earlier that stress is a big mast cell trigger. One of the benefits of forest bathing is that is can lower stress.
But it has a lot of other benefits, too. I’ll share those in a moment. But first, I want to share those tips about getting back into nature without risking your health.
After we look at these tips, I’ll tell you more about how to start a safe forest bathing practice of your own and we’ll get back to those other benefits. (Including helping MCAS and your nervous system!)
My Tips for Year-Round Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is all about connecting to nature. But of course, you want to be smart and safe, whatever your environment.
You may live in an area where the weather is pretty much the same all year. Or you may be like me and live in an area with cold winters and hot summers.
You may also be concerned about allergies, ticks, mold and the weather. All very understandable. I had many of those same concerns.
Here’s what I do to feel safer and more at ease about getting back outside.
Where I live, we have mosquitoes and ticks about 9 months of the year.
At minimum bites can lead to histamine release. Even worse, bites can lead to infectious diseases like Lyme.
After I learned I had Lyme, I was afraid to go into the woods for a few years. But my nervous system really suffered from this.
Since then, I’ve learned how to be outside without worrying about ticks. I hope you’ll consider some of these tips.
But if you aren’t ready yet, that’s ok. Have a lot of grace with yourself. You’ve been through a lot!
Here are some tips on how to deal with ticks and mosquitos to avoid getting bitten:
- Prevention – Ticks are found in tall grasses and brush. They are most commonly found in bushes like honeysuckle and taller grasses. Avoid these areas. Stay on trails or in mowed, short grass. And ticks don’t fall out of trees onto your head. It’s a misunderstanding I hear a lot. But that’s one less worry. That’s good news!
- Consider a natural pest deterrent – I like Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. It’s DEET free and essential oil based. It rated very highly by Consumer Reports. I’ve found it to be really effective in my area. If you aren’t sure how sensitive you are to essential oils, test this on a small patch of skin to see how you do. You can also spray this on your clothes as an option.
- Wear light-weight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants – Mosquitos can technically bite through fabrics. But it’s not as likely. Covering up also helps protect you against sun and ticks.
- Wear light-colored clothes in tick season – This will let you more easily see a tick if one is crawling on you.
- Get to know your area – These are the tips that work for the mosquitos and ticks in my area. They may or may not work for the area you’re in. Take your time to learn what works for you. Avid hikers in your area can give you tips.
Related Article: Non Toxic Tick Prevention for those with Sensitivities
Concerned your allergies will be worse outside? If you have severe pollen or ragweed allergies, you may need to wait until your mast cell reactions are a little more improved.
But you can work on your mast cells. You can do other forms of nervous system work to help calm your mast cells. And be sure to take your meds and supplements before you go into the woods.
And you may want to go outside when pollen and ragweed aren’t peaking. Winter can actually be a really nice time for forest bathing, too.
Mold is found in soil and in decaying leaves. Most mold in the soil is a non-toxic mold called cladosporium. It doesn’t produce mold toxins.
But in wet, decaying leaves you can find some of the toxic molds.
- Prevention – Stay out of piles of leaves and avoid areas with a lot of decaying leaves.
Not everyone with Mold Toxicity has an allergy to mold. If you have mold allergy, you probably get a lot of increased symptoms if you clean up dead leaves. You likely already know this is you if you’ve experienced it.
If these allergies are really severe, you may need to avoid going out in nature when mold counts are higher, particularly in wet seasons. The ocean or desert may be better for you.
Next, let’s look at weathering the elements.
Sun and Heat Exposure
You may be sensitive to heat and sun. Here are some tips to try:
- If you can tolerate the sun, get some sun exposure but don’t burn – Vitamin D production from sensible sun exposure is very important for immune and bone health. But if you’ll be out long enough to burn, wear a non-toxic sun protection – I like Sun Love by Annmarie Skincare and Sun Protection by Primal Life.
- If you’re sun sensitive, wear appropriate clothing – You may want to consider a wide-brimmed hat for sunny days. Stay in the shade if you get overheated or are sun sensitive.
- If you’re heat sensitive – Go out earlier in the day in the summer before it gets too hot. In the summer, I get out by 8:30am.
- Stay hydrated – If you are out in hotter temperatures, it’s especially important to stay hydrated. I like using non-toxic, insulated water bottles. Bottles like these keep your water nice and cool. Try to drink at least 24 oz every hour you’re out in the heat.
- Rest! – If you start to feel overheated or tired, take a break. Stop, take a drink of water, let your heart rate slow down. Only spend as much time as is good for your body.
Here’s how to stay warm while enjoying your forest bathing practice.
- Bring a warm drink – The water bottle I use is also good for keeping liquids cold or hot. A nice, comforting tea can warm you up during colder weather. It also brings some joyful coziness.
I love the teas from Kauai Farmacy. The link below is a specially curated page just for the Mast Cell 360 community. Any of the teas on this page are fine if you have Histamine Intolerance.
- Wear layers – Long underwear has come a long way over the years! You can get different colors, styles, fits, and fabrics. I like the ones from Meriwool.
If you are sensitive to wool, you might want to put a silk layer underneath the wool.
I had a wool sensitivity for a few years and would layer Terramar Thermasilk under the wool layers to keep it off my skin.
These are both high quality brands using natural fabrics.
They may cost a little more than you were expecting for undergarments. However, I can tell you from personal experience that they last for years and years.
Whatever you choose, look for all-natural fabrics.
Forest Bathing in the Rain
Did you ever hear someone say you couldn’t go out in the rain because getting wet would make you sick?
This isn’t really true in most instances.
I recently read that this may actually be a lingering belief from older times when people didn’t know as much about how the body really worked.
As long as the rain isn’t so cold that you’d get hypothermia, you’re probably ok to be out in it for a short time.
If you feel stronger, it can be an exhilarating experience! But listen to your body for what is right for you.
Don’t go out in the rain if it’s lightning, there is risk of flooding, or it’s too cold for you, though.
- Dress for the weather – when it rains, I bring my umbrella and wear my raincoat with hood. If it’s raining, I usually find an outdoor shelter to sit under. But I still take my time and notice how different my environment is with the rain.
- Bring towels – If I’m driving somewhere, I have dry towels and a change of clothes in the car.
- Keep your hair dry – getting your head wet can make being in the rain uncomfortable. An umbrella or raincoat with a hood can help with this.
- Allow extra time for rainy day forest bathing – You’ve just done some good work to calm your nervous system. You don’t want to negate that work by being in a time crunch.
You’ll probably want to change clothes and maybe even take a warm shower before you go on with your day.
I like to turn on my sauna before I go and then hop in to warm up. I do this in the winter as well.
If this kind of weather doesn’t appeal to you, that’s ok. It’s better for you to be spending time on practices you enjoy rather than forcing an experience.
Always listen to your body and trust your gut.
I hope these tips will encourage you and bring you some peace of mind. If you’re ready to get back out there, keep reading to learn more about forest bathing and how to make a safe forest bathing practice of your own.
Creating Your Own Forest Bathing Practice
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to forest bathing. Loosely, the important “rules” are to be out in nature and to be as in the moment as you can be.
Although this is called Forest Bathing, not everyone feels at home in the forest. You may feel more at home in the mountains or at the ocean. You may feel more at home in the desert.
What’s most important is that you choose:
- a place that is physically safe where you can let go
- a place in nature you have easy access to so you can visit regularly
- the type of nature places you feel more at home in so you can relax
- ways of practicing that will work for where you are in your life right now
Even though the “rules” are loose, there are two key elements you want to consider for your practice.
1. Get away from power sources as best as you can.
Try to find locations without electrified grounds or buried wires. Try to stay away from cell phone towers and traffic noise, too.
You’ll find a little city park won’t have the same effects for your nervous system as a nature preserve or a larger forest where you can get away from EMFs.
You may have to drive to get to a spot where you can get the full benefits of forest bathing. This practice became so important to me that I would drive 20 minutes once a week to get to a good spot.
2. Soak in your surroundings with all 5 of your senses.
Most people tend to engage most with sight and sound. But also think about your sense of smell, taste, and touch.
This can help you be even more in the present moment and become more grounded in your body. This grounding, or earthing, helps connect you to nature even more deeply.
The earth has a subtle, but very healing electromagnetic pulse. When you touch your bare feet to the earth, you start to resonate with this pulse.
It’s another way of signaling to your nervous system and mast cells that you’re safe. This pulse helps shift you from alarm mode into healing mode.
Just remember, forest bathing is different from exercising. You don’t have to be the fastest. You don’t have to be the strongest. You don’t have to even reach the end of the trail.
In fact, you don’t want to do any of those things. Those are activities for the sympathetic nervous system.
You’re training your parasympathetic nervous system for healing.
So, don’t push yourself into a state of stress. Forest bathing is about releasing stress.
Enjoy the feeling of not rushing.
There are two ways I’ve done forest bathing: walking and being still. We’ll look at those next.
Forest Bathing by Walking
Forest bathing is about the journey, not the destination.
Some people prefer to walk rather than being still. When my fibromyalgia was at its worst, I had a lot of pain when I sat still.
My nervous system was also so ramped up that I felt more anxious by being still.
In those times I took slow, gentle strolls.
If you chose to try walking forest bathing, you might consider choosing trails with flatter terrain so you don’t have to worry about over-exerting yourself.
And if you can’t walk very far, don’t worry. You can stick to the edge of the woods.
Many times, I’ve just taken a blanket and did my practice in the grass at the edge of the tree line.
With a walking practice, walk slowly so you can be aware of your surroundings.
Take time to notice all the little things you might overlook if you were racing through or preoccupied with your phone notifications.
Even though I walked for the most part, I would stop at benches and slip my shoes off so I could touch my feet to the earth. This is one way I practice grounding (or earthing).
This grounding is very helpful for the healing. You can also forest bathe and practice grounding through being still.
Forest Bathing by Being Still
While walking used to work better for me, these days I prefer to be still when I’m in nature.
I find a quiet spot in the woods to be still. I try to be there for at least 20 minutes.
When I have the time and the weather is great, I’ll stay for an hour or two.
You may be tempted to check your phone, but that will take you out of the experience. If possible, put your phone in airplane mode or turn it off entirely.
You’ll want to bring a couple things with you to make this experience more comfortable.
Here are the things that work for me.
Bring something to lie or sit on.
I used to take a very lightweight aluminum camping chair or find a bench to sit on. These days, though, I prefer to lie down.
Bring an organic cotton blanket to lie down on.
If the ground is wet or it’s raining, I bring a waxed canvas mat to put under my blanket. This mat keeps moisture from seeping through the blanket and my clothes.
My blanket and my mat are both made from natural materials. Here’s why you want to choose natural over synthetics.
Remember how you read about earthing earlier? It’s where you ground yourself by feeling the pulse of the earth? Synthetic fabrics keep you from feeling this pulse.
And to feel this pulse even more, I take my shoes off, too. I let my feet connect with the earth to help ground me.
With shoes, you aren’t going to feel this as much through the synthetic rubber and plastic soles.
I’ll even take my shoes off in the winter, but I wear thick, natural wool socks.
I still feel that sense of connection to the earth because wool is a natural material. And wool is warm enough to keep me from getting too cold.
Once I’ve settled in, I sit on my blanket and take in the forest around me. Sometimes, I’ll close my eyes to engage my other senses more fully.
TIP: If you find you have a hard time relaxing, you can try a 5 senses exercise. You can make this practice suit your own needs, but here are the basics. Observe your environment with each of your senses and countdown from 5.
5 things you see
4 things you hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you smell
1 thing you taste
This is a simple tool that can help root you back into your body and environment.
When I feel like I’m ready to leave, I take extra care to pack up slowly and with mindfulness. And I fully engage my senses to enjoy the walk back out, too.
I’ve been doing forest bathing for a while now. And I now go out almost every day, year-round. The exceptions are when it’s under 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter or if there is lightning.
So by now you may get the idea that forest bathing is good for your nervous system. And you might already know that a happy nervous systems can lead to happier mast cells. We’ll take a look at these and other benefits of forest bathing next. (Lots of benefits beyond MCAS, too!)
What are the Benefits of Forest Bathing?
You don’t necessarily have to forest bathe alone.
You might consider sharing this experience with a friend.
Just find the right friend – one who’s comfortable with quiet and will be able to move slowly and meaningfully with you.
You can let her or him know about all the great benefits forest bathing has for anyone, not just those with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
A study published in 2010 showed that forest environments may promote:
- lower concentrations of cortisol (a stress hormone)
- lower pulse rate
- lower blood pressure
- parasympathetic activity
There’s also data showing that forest bathing may:
- lower stress
- improve cardiovascular and metabolic health
- lower blood-sugar levels
- improve concentration and memory
- improve energy
- help with depression
- boost the immune system (by increasing natural killer cells also called NK cells which kill unwanted cells like those infected with a virus for example)
And here’s one other pretty big benefit.
Forest Bathing can help with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. Let’s look at that next.
Forest Bathing Benefits and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
Dr. Qing Li, author of the book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, said,
“…when we are in harmony with the natural world we can begin to heal. Our nervous system can reset itself, our bodies and minds can go back to how they ought to be…we are refreshed and restored.”
Unfortunately, though, people are moving further away from the natural world and into cities.
There are more streetlights than trees. There are more commercials than bird song. There’s more concrete than grass.
That means we aren’t resetting our nervous system with nature nearly as much as we could be.
And here’s what’s important about that if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
Getting the nervous system regulated…and keeping it regulated…is essential in addressing Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
Nervous system practices are extremely important to your mast cells because you’re communicating to your mast cells that you’re safe, that it’s ok to call off the mast cell attacks.
So, let’s talk more about how reconnecting to nature can help your nervous system.
Let’s start by learning just a little about the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.
Your healing response is the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic state is rest, heal, digest.
Ideally, you’d be in this parasympathetic state 70-80% of the time.
But our modern world tends to keep us in the sympathetic state.
The people I talk with who are suffering from MCAS are in sympathetic mode 75-99% of the time.
This is the fight, flight, or freeze response.
How can you get stuck in this sympathetic state? Let me ask you this.
Are you stressed from health worries, conflicts, job stress, or family responsibilities?
Do you feel bombarded with traffic, online bills, a 24-hour news cycle, emails, EMFs, voice messages or the feeling of having to stay virtually connected at all times?
All of these are stressors.
There’s even a name for stress related to unhealthy tech habits. It’s called technostress.
Studies have shown that chronic stress can keep you in the sympathetic state.
Maybe you’ve been told that everyone faces these kinds of stressors. Or maybe you’ve been told it’s not so bad.
But did you know that your nervous system reacts the same to minor stressors as it does to major ones?
For example, you could be stressed that someone cut you off in traffic or you could be stressed because you are being attacked by a bear. Your nervous system responds the same to both!
You can see then how the modern world can result in chronic stress…and keep you in the sympathetic nervous system state.
And did you know that stress and being stuck in the sympathetic nervous system state can create an immune response?
Studies have shown that this immune response can increase the level of pro-inflammatory cytokines getting released in your body.
Cytokines are mast cell mediators that get released when mast cells are triggered or activated.
What this boils down to is more stress equals more mast cell activation.
With all these stressors, what can you do to get into that parasympathetic state?
In my Mast Cell 360 practice, nervous system balancing is one of the major steps my clients take toward regaining health when they have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
The parasympathetic nervous system is strongly activated by being in nature. That’s where forest bathing comes in.
I’ve been forest bathing for a while now to help keep my nervous system and mast cells in check.
One Final Note
I want to encourage you to do all kinds of good work for your well-being. But I know that sometimes good work can feel a lot like…work.
You want forest bathing to be a practice you look forward to.
I enjoy the time I spend in the natural world. This practice has done a lot to benefit my overall state of mind.
I sometimes call it my “forest therapy.”
And remember: a happy nervous system leads to happy mast cells.
Want to find out more about how nervous system regulation helps Mast Cell Activation Syndrome?
Learn more in my Mast Cell 360 Nervous System Reboot Master Class.
Have you tried forest bathing? Our Mast Cell community would love to hear how you do it! Please share your top tips with us in the comments below!
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