The Benefits of Forest Bathing
You may or may not have heard of the term "forest bathing." It comes from Japan where the practice is called shinrin-yoku; Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath." There is no actual bathing; what Shinrin-yoku means is basking in a natural environment and taking in the forest through our senses. It is simply spending time in nature, immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of nature and living in the present moment.
It's been known for centuries how good being in nature makes us feel. The fresh clean air, the sunlight filtering through the leaves, the sounds of the forest, the beauty of trees and all the lovely scents give us a sense of comfort. They help us to relax, reduce our stress, allows us to think more clearly, can restore our mood, refreshes and rejuvenates us. Forest bathing gives us an opportunity to slow down and connect with nature through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
Proponents of forest bathing say it can help to counter illnesses such as stress, anxiety, depression, help boost the immune system and help with insomnia amongst other things. One study by the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending time in an urban park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being. Another study found that forest bathing can help reduce blood pressure, heart rates and levels of stress hormones like cortisol which your body produces when you're stressed. A study from the UK found that exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities improved mental well-being; the benefits were still evident for several hours afterwards. (Want to learn more? Check out these other studies that show all the many benefits of spending quality time in nature).
Forest bathing involves no strenuous exercise, no special equipment or skills needed. You don't even need a heavily forested area to go to, just someplace in nature where you can leave the trappings of the modern world behind. It can be your local park, a trail, a beach, a lake, really any natural setting. Leave your electronics behind or turn them off and put them away so you can fully immerse yourself in the natural environment. Walk slowly, almost meditatively, engaging all your senses. Take your time, look around. Take slow, deep breaths and smell the fragrance of the air. Touch the trees, feel the leaves, soil and plants. 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 way the sunlight filters through the branches. Take your time. Savour the sounds, smells and sights of nature and let the forest in. Stop every once in awhile and look up and all around. Be still.
In trying to find peace and calmness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution; it differs from person to person. It's important to find a place that works for you. If you love trees, you will be most relaxed where the natural landscape provides this and the effects of the forest will be more powerful. Love the sound of water? Find someplace where there's a river, stream, lake or ocean. Maybe you have a place in the country that reminds you of happy times in the past. These places will be special to you and your connection with them will be stronger because of it.
It's best to practice forest bathing for at least 20 minutes every day, more if you can manage it. If you don’t have that much time to spare, that’s okay; any amount of time you can spend outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine is good. The goal of forest bathing is to relax, de-stress and unplug. The practice shouldn’t feel like a chore, it should be an activity you look forward to and enjoy.
Check out this short animated video to learn more about the many benefits of forest bathing:
It's important to practice forest bathing safely: always pay attention to your surroundings, stay on marked trails, wear appropriate gear, use things like sun protection and insect repellents if needed, bring some water to keep hydrated. Let someone know where you are going and for how long if you go by yourself, or bring a friend with you so that you both can enjoy the benefits.
Nature can be a wonderful healer, especially if we can slow down, live fully in the moment and appreciate the beauty that's all around us. So go for a stroll through your favourite natural place and reap the benefits of forest bathing. Your body and your mind will thank you for it!