The Japanese have a term Shinrin-yoku which means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Developed during the 1980s and the subject of feverish research, mostly in Japan and South Korea, it refers to the many health benefits proven to accrue when we spend time in a living forest.
What humans have known instinctively for millennia is now backed by science: Spending time in nature is good for our physical and mental wellbeing.
The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
• Boosted immune system functioning
• Reduced blood pressure
• Reduced stress
• Improved mood
• Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
• Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
• Increased energy level
• Improved sleep
• Deeper and clearer intuition
But what do you do if you live in a big city, far away from a forest or simply don’t have the time to get out into nature regularly? It seems that even just listening to the sounds of nature have a similar positive effect.
Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England tested 17 healthy adults by carrying out functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans while the subjects listened to a series of five-minute soundscapes of natural and manmade environments.
While they listened to these soundscapes, the participants were asked to perform a set series of tasks while the researchers monitored their heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, temperature, metabolism, and digestion.
When they studied the fMRI results, the researchers noticed that activity in the brain’s default mode network—an area involved in mind wandering and “task-free” states of wakefulness—varied depending on the background sounds being played.
The amazing part? Artificial sounds caused patterns of inward-focused attention, while natural sounds caused the listener to focus more outwardly.
Inward-focused attention is generally linked to behaviours like psychological stress, depression, anxiety and PTSD. In addition, the participants suffered reduced reaction times when listening to artificial sounds.
Slight differences in heart rate were also detected, indicating a shift in the body’s autonomic nervous system response. Natural sounds also induced a reduction in the body’s sympathetic response (the root of the well-known fight or flight feeling)and an increase in parasympathetic response. This response is the one that makes us feel relaxed.
We paid great attention to this research when we were creating Synctuition. It would have been much easier and cheaper to simply create artificial bird sounds, or digitally sample the sound of falling water or the distant clanging of a bell. But the science tells us this would not have been nearly as effective. So we spent almost a decade travelling the globe conducting field recordings in some of the most spectacular locations. The numbers speak for themselves:
• 13,208 unique natural sounds recorded
• 1942 locations visited
• 420 000 minutes of field recordings conducted