Being in nature to get in touch with your dinosaur brain

Author: Yasuhiro Kotera

Associate Professor at University of Nottingham


As part of my mental health research, I’ve been exploring the impact of being in nature. For example, in Japan, the word “shinrin-yoku” was coined in the early-1980s to promote a coping strategy with stress. Since then, practice and research of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing have advanced. Not only shinrin (forests) but just being in nature is healing. Today many scientists around the world research shinrin-yoku, and report its promising health effects. Many health benefits of shinrin-yoku relate to stress reduction, which is caused by antimicrobial compounds released from plants, called “phytoncide”. Stress reduction helps our physical and mental health. My meta-analysis synthesising the evidence on the mental health effects of shinrin-yoku reports that shinrin-yoku is effective for many mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and anger but the effects on anxiety were largest. This may be related to the calming effects of shinrin-yoku. People calm down in a forest.


One reason why shinrin-yoku research gets attention now is an increase in people’s awareness about the environment e.g., SDGs. Nature-based approaches such as shinrin-yoku can improve our attitudes towards conservation and make us more eco-friendly. Nature-based approaches can show us that it is possible to form a win-win relationship between people and nature.


Though the science of shinrin-yoku has advanced recently, the positive effects of this practice were reported earlier. Kenichi Takemura, a Japanese journalist and political critic, recommended people to get in touch with nature so that their dinosaur brain will be stimulated. In our modern lifestyle, our thinking brain is heavily used, and we tend to forget to feel the moment. That is why activating our dinosaur brain is helpful because that helps us feel our instincts or experience our ikigai or inherent pleasure. Likewise, Takeshi Yoro, a Japanese physician and anatomist, also recommends people go to a forest when encountering a problem. Nature seems to help us access different parts of our brain than what we use in our daily life.


When you are stuck with thoughts (and even when you are not), being in nature may help you.


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