How (and Why) to Try Forest Bathing

Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is an idea that originally came from Japan about how natural places are beneficial to your health and well-being. Of course this idea is not solely Japanese, you may have even had this thought yourself. However, it may be that the Japanese were the first to give it a name and designate it an official therapeutic activity.

How (and Why) to Try Forest Bathing : The Benefits of Shinrin-yoku

What’s the definition of forest bathing? Forest bathing, also called forest therapy, is simply spending time in nature with a quiet mind that allows you to experience your surroundings with all your senses. Take in the sights, smells and sounds.

Science has shown that we are healthier when we spend time in natural surroundings:

  • average concentration of the stress hormone cortisol was 13.4% lower in people who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes than that of people in urban settings (source)
  • time spent in nature is associated with decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic nervous system activity (source)
  • people taking two hour walks in the woods over a two day period exhibited a significant increase in levels of NK (natural killer) cells, the body’s disease fighting agents, (source, source) and these effects lasted more than a week
  • the forest walkers had a reduction in systolic blood pressure from 141 mmHg down to 134 mmHg after four hours in the forest (source)
  • people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in an urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression (source)
  • access to quality green spaces nearby is positively associated with life expectancy and healthy life expectancy (source)
  • time spent in open natural space can reduce the symptoms of ADHD and behavioral disorders in children (source)

What is a forest bath?

How to incorporate forest bathing into your life:

  • Make a plan to go out into nature at least once a week, once a day is better
  • Leave your phone, your camera and any other electronic devices at home, or if that’s impossible put them in your bag and don’t take them out
  • When you are in nature be quiet, and engage your senses
  • Don’t hike with a purpose, wander slowly and pay attention to the moment rather than focusing on a goal
  • Look around you and notice the details. Feel the air with your skin. Is it cool or warm, wet or dry?
  • Touch the plants near you, feel the bark of the trees, explore the leaves with your fingertips. Gently touch the moss, feel the rocks. Are they rough or smooth?
  • Found a body of water? Put your fingers or toes in the water to feel its rhythm and temperature.
  • Listen to the birds as they rustle the bushes. Maybe you hear a hawk calling in the distance or a frog in a nearby pond.What sound does the breeze make through the grass?
  • Smell the leaves, tree bark and the dirt. Deeply inhale.
  • Perhaps bring something to sit or lie on and find a quiet place to rest for 10 minutes with your eyes closed
  • While you’re sitting, touch the ground with your hands or your feet bare feet. Deeply inhale and smell the earth and the plants.

Beware: Before you start petting the plants, it is smart to know which ones in your area are poisonous or irritating like stinging nettle and poison oak. Don’t touch those! 🙂

When many people think of hiking they imagine a sweaty workout. Peak bagging, getting cardio, and huffing and puffing. And of course hiking is good for that, but forest bathing is not about the destination, it’s the journey. Take your time and walk at a comfortable pace. You want to get your blood moving but it’s more about engaging your senses than breaking a sweat. Some Japanese Shinrin-yoku experts will have you push up a slope for half a minute then stop to catch your breath for a few seconds. Part of the therapy is the movement but that doesn’t mean you need to go for a run. If possible, take a longer distance hike rather than a faster one. Perhaps combine your walk with pauses to stretch or even to sit or lie down and meditate.

Part of the benefit of forest bathing is of course simply being in nature and getting some exercise which is always good for you. But the thing that makes shinrin-yoku special is that you’re paying attention. It’s a form of meditation. Your mind can relax by focusing on your senses rather than the constant buzz in your head and the need to jibber jabber all day long. It’s also a break from our electronics. This is how forest bathing can help with stress.

Walking meditations can be especially beneficial for those of us who have problems quieting our minds. It can be very helpful because you’re not just sitting there on a cushion in zazen where your mind can easily wander. You’re actually doing something but you allow yourself that quiet contemplation and focused yet relaxed attention on your surroundings.

Although the scientific studies had participants walking for several hours a day, you don’t need to forest bathe for hours at a time if that’s not possible for you. If you can escape your busy day for 15 to 30 minutes, it should do the trick. If you can find a place to take longer walks on the weekends that would be great.

Where Can I Go Forest Bathing Near Me?

Maybe there’s a small quiet park near your house or your office where you can go for a few minutes and observe nature. Perhaps you live in the midst of a busy city and a quiet place is not obvious nearby. However, even in most cities there’s a botanical garden or city park where you can find peace and and the sounds of nature. (here are some wonderful botanical gardens in Europe and the USA) In a busy city you might have to go early in the morning to have a quiet experience. Of course a trip to a state or national park or a remote wilderness area may be even more therapeutic. But a nice quiet local park is also beneficial. Let’s just say it’s better to go to that local park daily than to not go into nature at all.

If you’d like to try guided forest bathing you can check out the website of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Or check out these 9 spas where you can experience forest bathing and forest therapy activities while getting away from it all.

What do you think? Will you try to incorporate forest bathing into your life?


You might also like these nature therapy and forest bathing books:

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