What is Forest Bathing and Why Should You Be Doing It?

What is forest bathing and how do you do it?

Forest Bathing is the literal translation of the Japanese term shinrin-yoku. Shinrin-yoku is a well-known practice in Japan of immersing oneself in the forest atmosphere.

It’s not about getting naked in the forest. Nope.

It has nothing to do with bathing in actual water either. No.

It’s not just taking a hike in a wooded area. Not at all.

It’s about simply being in the presence of trees. Where the air is cleaner. Where everything is in its natural state. Where the colors and gentleness are pleasant to all the senses.

Forest bathing is about exposing yourself to the healing elements of the forest.

It’s about resting or taking a slow, intentional walk through the forest to unwind, re-center, reduce stress, and take in all the tangible and intangible effects of the lush vegetation.

I know what you’re thinking. Taking a walk through the forest? That sounds like a hike. I’ve been hiking for years. No need to call it anything fancy.

Ah, but my friend, forest bathing is not just a hike in the woods.

It’s not about moving fast to end up at a particular destination or get exercise. It’s about moving slow and controlled, or even sitting, with a particular purpose in mind, such as relaxation. Typically you don’t even travel very far when forest bathing, because exercise is not the point.

Let’s dive deeper into “the point.”

What’s the point of forest bathing?

In the 1980s, the Forest Agency of Japan actually created a public movement around shinrin-yoku. After numerous studies showed the healing effects of the forest, the country adopted the practice and shaped various health policies around it.

In Japan, you’ll even find designated Forest Therapy trails and entire organizations dedicated to shinrin-yoku. In fact, a forest has to pass certain standards to be considered a therapy forest. They go so far as to do blood-sampling studies to determine whether natural killer cell counts in people are raised enough to consider it therapeutic. Forest therapy is even covered by insurance! They take it very seriously, for good reason.

The US has a lot of catching up to do.

 

But why do they care so much?

Well, through a culmination of many studies, they noticed how many physical and mental benefits forest bathing offers. The forests provide a reprieve from the maniacal pace and superficiality of big cities, offering relaxation and stress reduction in exchange for the frenzy. (Take a look at all the studies here.)

You’re likely already intuitively aware of the calming effects of nature. Ever since you were a kid, you’ve probably had your own treasured experiences in nature. It soothes and invites and calms.

Forest bathing gives that practice a name and a purpose and validates that feeling. This is just a way of going deeper into that practice, getting the most out of it, and really understanding the “why” behind it.

 

Just pay attention to what happens to your body if I show you a picture of a lush forest…

 

Forest bathing shinrin-yoku: what it is, what the benefits are, and how to do it

 

If you’re attuned to your body, you may have felt an immediate relaxation sensation in your body, right? A sense of magic and wonder comes over you. You want to be there. You feel drawn.

Forest bathing is about answering that calling.

It’s about experiencing those greenscapes with all your senses.

It’s about mindfulness.

It’s about healing.

It’s about clarity.

It’s about relaxation.

It’s about tuning in to your intuition.

It’s about leaving man-made environments and returning to nature.

It’s about returning to where we came from.

It’s the underlying message: “this is where I belong.”

 

You really just sit in the presence of the forest and take in the environment with all your senses to experience all of the above.

 

Ok, so now you’re curious…

How do you start nature bathing?

Open forest. Insert human.

No, but really. Forest bathing can take whatever form you want it to take. There are no hard and fast rules.

I’m in the process of creating a starter field guide [Be the first to get it HERE]. There are a few other programs out there too. You can hire a guide. You can join a Meetup group. You can practice it solo. But you really need little more than yourself and a patch of trees. Even shoes are optional.

Forest bathing is about soaking in the essence of the forest. It sounds esoteric, but it’s actually very straightforward. Being in nature is good for your wellbeing. Practicing mindfulness and awareness in nature deepens that goodness.

So, what you want to do is engage with the forest with all your senses, try to smell nature so hard that you can’t forget it. Try to etch the colors in your mind and appreciate their vibrancy. Run your bare feet through the grass to indulge your playful side and reap the earthing benefits. Take a moment to feel the wind moving each hair on your arm.

You have to be intentional about noticing. Just noticing with all your senses.

 

What are the benefits of nature bathing?

Well, there are quite a few studies on the subject. If you like the science or you’re skeptical, give these a read. Otherwise, you can just read through the benefits:

  1. Lowered blood pressure
  2. Lowered pulse rate: it only makes sense that if stress is lessened, pulse would be as well.
  3. Higher immunity
  4. Lowered stress: the actual amount of cortisol in your body lessens in the forest. Remember cortisol is the stress hormone that messes with your insulin levels and weight, not to mention well-being.
  5. Lowers sympathetic and heightens parasympathetic nervous system: this is the exact prescription for anxiety.
  6. Increased cognition
  7. Increased attention
  8. Feeling alive and vibrant
  9. Increased intuition

I’ve got so much more coming, so make sure you’re on the list to be the first to know when the Starter Field Guide is available and then when the full Forest Bathing Immersion Guide is released.

Until then, keep you eyes on the website and blog to see what’s we’re cooking up;)

Sources: Pubmed