Forest baths are a cornerstone of Japanese preventative medicine.
Forest bathing emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”).
Forest bathing or forest therapy means taking in, with all of one’s senses, the forest atmosphere. Shinrin-yoku is the conscious and contemplative practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the forest. The practice was developed in Japan during the 1980s, with Japan adopting the practice into its national health program in 1982. Forest baths have since become a cornerstone of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine.
Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
Researchers, primarily in Japan and South Korea, have established a growing body of scientific literature on the diverse health benefits of shinrin-yoku.
Spending time amongst the trees has calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone – cortisol – and boosting the immune system. Shinrin-yoku has resulted in decreases in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness amongst study participants. Additionally, after just 15 minutes of forest bathing, blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced, and concentration and mental clarity improve.
There are now 44 accredited Shinrin-Yoku forests in Japan, with the research conducted helping to establish Shinrin-Yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.
This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
From FOREST BATHING: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li, published on April 17, 2018 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Qing Li, 2018.
First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells, and sights of nature and letting the forest in.
The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.
When it comes to finding calm and relaxation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – it differs from person to person. It is important to find a place that suits you. If you love the smell of damp soil, you will be most relaxed where the natural landscape provides it. Then the effects of the forest will be more powerful. Maybe you have a place in the countryside that reminds you of your childhood or of happy times in the past. These places will be special to you and your connection with them will be strong.
When you have been busy at work all week, it can be hard to slow down. You may have been rushing around so much you no longer know how to stand still. Walking with a guide who is a trained forest therapist can help you feel more comfortable and find the right environment to fit your needs. In one of my favorite forests, Iinan Furusato-no-Mori, the forest-therapy program includes guided walks. Doctors are on hand to offer general health assessments. When you arrive, you are given a physical health check and a psychological questionnaire. The therapist then works out the best walking plan for you.
But it is just as easy to forest-bathe without a guide. And there are many different activities you can do in the forest that will help you to relax and to connect with nature. Here are some of the things people do: forest walking, yoga, eating in the forest, hot-spring therapy, T’ai chi, meditation, breathing exercises, aromatherapy, art classes and pottery, Nordic walking and plant observation. It doesn’t matter how fit – or unfit – you are. Shinrin-yoku is suitable for any level of fitness.
You can forest-bathe anywhere in the world – wherever there are trees; in hot weather or in cold; in rain, sunshine or snow. You don’t even need a forest. Once you have learned how to do it, you can do shinrin-yoku anywhere – in a nearby park or in your garden. Look for a place where there are trees, and off you go!
Elise’s Tips for Forest Bathing
- Unplug. Leave behind your phone, or other distractions, so you can be fully present in the experience.
- Wander. Allow yourself to leave behind your goals & expectations, following your body’s natural compass.
- Pause. Take time to look more closely at your surroundings.
I love collecting plants and using them as bookmarks! That way I’m able to preserve a piece of a certain place and take it with me! Thanks babe for picking this for me 🙂