Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Imagine you’re in a lush forest. Deep green tree leaves, the earthy smell of moss, the petrichor of the forest floor, and dappled sunlight warm on your face.
Do you feel calm when imagining this scene? If you said yes, you might benefit from the calming practice of Forest Bathing.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest Bathing is the practice of mindfully engaging with the forest, utilizing all senses to connect with the body and nature. The concept is not necessarily a new one, as people of all cultures have enjoyed connecting with nature in many ways, especially their local forests. However, the purposeful act of Forest Bathing was first coined in 1982 by Japanese Forestry officials to combat high mental health issues. The official term for the practice is Shinrin Yoku and goes beyond walking in and admiring the forest. Instead, Shinrin Yoku focuses on “using your senses to derive a whole range of benefits for your physical, mental, emotional, and social health.”
Why is Forest Bathing beneficial?
According to Healing Forest, “Forest bathing in nature allows the stressed portions of your brain to relax. Positive hormones are released in the body. You feel less sad, angry and anxious. It helps to avoid stress and burnout, and aids in fighting depression and anxiety.” Researchers Akemi Furuyashiki, Keiji Tabuchi, Kensuke Norikoshi, Toshio Kobayashi, and Sanae Oriyama agree. They conducted a comparative study that concluded, “Examining the physiological and psychological effects of a day-long session of forest bathing on a working age group demonstrated significant positive effects on mental health, especially in those with depressive tendencies.” The researchers also cite a further study that found conclusive evidence of further Forest Bathing benefits: “The study reported greater physiological effects from forests than urban areas, such as a decrease in blood pressure, the activation of parasympathetic nervous activity, and the suppression of sympathetic nervous activity, as well as biochemical effects such as decreased salivary amylase and blood cortisol concentrations, and increased immune function.” Forest Bathing, therefore, has a positive impact on both the mental and physical health of participants.
How does Forest Bathing generate such incredible benefits?
Forest Bathing combines the benefits of meditation with the benefits of physical exercise. Furthermore, some scholars believe humans have an evolutionary reaction when reunited with nature and “living in our modern “artificial” society is inherently stressful. Given this background, it should be natural for humans to feel a sense of comfort or affinity with the natural environment.” Even the very idea of returning to nature stimulates a response in the human brain, as Medical News Today explains: “in one study, participants’ cortisol levels dropped once the researchers had informed them that they were going to take part in forest bathing.” The human body wants to be connected to nature, and it responds positively when it is returned to nature.
How can I practice Forest Bathing?
First, do your research, a lot of research. Not all environments are safe for humans to travel aimlessly. Start first with a hike somewhere safe, well-documented, and with a very clear path or even alongside a hiking guide. Once you have ensured that you are safe, put your phone or any other distracting devices away. One Planted Tree has some examples of how to then explore the forest with your five senses. As Cnet reports, “with forest bathing, the goal isn’t to accomplish anything specific or do something strenuous. It’s simply to exist in a green area with minimal distractions.” Healing Forest adds, “The main principles are to go in silence and go slow. Use your senses to find things in nature that bring you peace and happiness.” Awareness is the key to a beneficial meditative Forest Bathing experience, but it the complete opposite sort of hyper-awareness one is used to in the fast-paced urban environment.
What if I can’t get to a forest?
Maybe you are not in an environment where forests are nearby. Or maybe you have young children you’re uncomfortable bringing to the forest. Or perhaps a walk in the forest is not possible for your body’s needs. The good news is that the benefits of Forest Bathing extend to many different elements of nature. You could go to a park and focus on the feel of the grass on your feet, or rest by a river, listening in the early morning when the bustle of city life is still just a gentle murmur. One Tree Planted says even gardening or tending house plants is a great way to connect with nature, so is taking the scenic route on your commute to and from work. If you can’t get to nature, there are a dozen ways to get nature to come to you.
Consider connecting with nature, connecting with yourself, and utilizing the practice of Shinrin Yoku for a happier, healthier you.