Have you ever taken a walk through nature without any distractions? Possibly without knowing it, you participated in the popular Japanese wellness activity of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, as it is traditionally known. Forest bathing is a sensory practice where you “bathe” your senses with natural stimulation from the forest or other nature setting.
The idea of shinrin-yoku originated in Japan in 1982. The term arose from the Japanese Forest Agency as a way to attract more visitors to Japanese forests. They defined the practice as “taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing.”
People forest bathe to lower stress and reconnect with nature. The practice offers several health benefits and has gained popularity as a form of therapy after several studies proved the efficacy of shinrin-yoku.
Forest Bathing Benefits
Forest bathing offers a way to alleviate the strain on people’s mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. In a 2020 study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers reviewed forest bathing as an approach to improving mindfulness and psychological well-being in participants during the COVID-19 pandemic. They discovered a “significant positive correlation between nature, mindfulness, and measures of psychological well-being” when practicing forest bathing.
In addition, the study demonstrated that forest bathing can decrease blood pressure, oxyhemoglobin levels in the prefrontal cortex, pulse rate, cortisol levels, and heart rate. According to the researchers, the inspiration one feels when surrounded by nature creates a sense of safety and security that can decrease stress levels and promote relaxation.
Forest bathing is designed to invoke almost every sense: aromatherapy from the plants; the forest sounds of trees rustling, birds chirping, or water rushing; visual stimulation from the flora and fauna; and tactile sensations of the soft soil under your feet or the leaves in your hand. Combined, these experiences work to deliver a stress-reducing therapy that improves physical health as well as psychological well-being. The forest air is cleaner than urban developments and the trees themselves contain phytoncides, antimicrobial organic compounds derived from plants known for a host of benefits, including boosting immune cells.
A study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared a group of male subjects taking day trips in a forest park to a group put in an urban environment. The forest bathing group displayed improved physical health and reported a decrease in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and confusion compared to the urban walkers. The study’s results clarified the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing and presented useful applications for clinical use. Forest bathing has emerged as a viable therapy option for people experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health stressors.
Forest bathing could not be more simple or accessible. All that is required is a short walk through nature without any distractions (put your phone away!). The actual length of the walk can vary depending on your preference and physical abilities. Some studies have had participants take two 40-minute walks once a week, while others had participants go on a 20-minute walk every day.1 However, you can also reap the benefits of forest bathing while sitting quietly in the forest and simply observing, which makes the technique appropriate for all levels of physical ability. The minimum recommended duration of a forest bath is 20 minutes.
Keep safety in mind when practicing shinrin-yoku. Go to a nature trail or an urban park if you do not have access to a preserve. Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear, such as sneakers or hiking shoes. Stick to marked trails, pay attention to your surroundings, and be prepared with sunscreen, allergy medication, and insect repellent if needed. While forest bathing is best done alone, you can go with a partner or group if conversation is kept to a minimum. Sunny weather is ideal for forest bathing, though shinrin-yoku can still be practiced in cloudy or rainy weather.
Adults and children can take part in this nature therapy. The actual process is much like meditation. Clear your mind and focus on the here and now, instead of what is going on at work or at home. Breathe deeply and observe the forest around you; move slowly and deliberately; touch the trees and flowers as you pass; pause when you desire to take in the full effect of the forest.
According to Phyllis Look, certified forest therapy guide with the award-winning Forest Bathing Hawai'i, a slow, gentle walk or a moment of quiet observation can help deepen your connection with nature. She recommends the following steps when forest bathing: unplug, go slow, use your senses, think less and feel more, give back, and repeat. Although there isn't one specific prescribed outcome, Look has observed participants being more open and present, and many of her clients have reported long-term benefits, including improved attention and mood, increased creativity, and lower blood pressure.
(Informational Credit belongs to Treehugger.com)