What is forest bathing?
Mary Oliver said of trees, “they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.” What she speaks to here is a feeling that many experience when spending time in nature, an experience that has become a formal practice: forest bathing. Forest bathing is a literal translation of the Japanese practice “shinrin-yoku” and has been in practice for a long time. Forest bathing arose in the 1980s as a response to the booming tech industry and the fast pace of modern life. In 1982, Japan created a national forest bathing program to encourage everyone to spend time outdoors. The idea behind forest bathing is that spending time immersed in nature is good for your mental health and well being, and science backs it up! Forest bathing is, simply, letting the sights, scents and sounds of the trees wash over you.
Benefits of forest bathing
It turns out that when your mom made you play outside as a kid she was actually onto something. There have been many studies done on forest bathing and the benefits of spending time outdoors and the results seem clear, spending time immersed in nature is good for you– in a lot of ways. A study by the University of Wisconsin- Madison revealed that just living near trees can improve your mood and mental health.
Forest bathing can have an effect on your physical health too, a study done by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan from 2004-2004 revealed that forest bathing reduces the concentration of cortisol (the stress hormone) in saliva, lowers blood pressure and reduces the concentration of adrenaline. That sounds like a lot of sciency words, but what it means is pretty simple; spending time in the forest can actually lower your stress levels and improve your overall health. Making forest bathing part of your life may be your start on a path towards mental wellbeing and a sense of connectedness with the earth.
How to start:
When beginning forest bathing it can be tempting to treat it like a walk or jog and while those activities have their benefits it’s important to make the distinction between a hike in the woods and actual forest bathing. There are forest bathing guides that can walk you through the process that can be found using this locating tool but one might not be accessible locally. Don’t worry though, you can become your own guide. When you’re out there remember that your purpose is to soak in the benefits of forest bathing, not to reach a destination or achieve a specific goal.
Find your spot
Before you begin your forest bathing journey you need to find a place to do it. Choose a place as far away from city life as possible. If you have access to mountains or wooded areas head that way, if you live in a city do some research for nearby natural areas and see what you find! Choose a park or forest with as many trees as possible and a terrain you feel comfortable with. Consider trying a couple different locations and seeing which has the most therapeutic effect for you.
Choose a time
Forest bathing is an intentional practice so decide how long you want to be in the forest and schedule it for a time when you will be able to devote your full attention to the moment and not be distracted by what you have to do for the rest of the day. If you are used to stimulation, be gentle with yourself and start by forest bathing for just ten minutes and then adding time on as you become more comfortable with the practice.
Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and the temperature and wear sturdy shoes that can be walked in (this is not the moment to showcase your brand new white sneakers.) When packing for your excursion, pay attention to what you’ll really need, feel free to bring extra supplies such as snacks and water to leave in the car but try to leave any distractions behind. Yes that means your phone. Safety is important and you should always tell someone where you’ll be going but to truly experience the beauty of nature you have to be ready to turn off your phone or leave it at home.
This isn’t a race. Walk slowly and engage your senses, what do you see? Smell? Hear? Take time to experience what is around you, the color of the leaves on the trees and the sound your shoes make as you walk. What do the sounds and sights awaken inside you? Bend down and touch the ground, let your finger brush against the trees around you and devote a moment to each thing you feel. If you brought a snack, bring it into the moment with you and apply the same attention to its taste and textures. Give each sense and experience in the forest the time and attention it deserves before moving on. The experience of forest bathing can be similar to the experience of meditation because they both emphasize focusing your attention and working to move away from outside distractions. If it’s helpful for you, plan a short meditation to get you into the headspace to fully connect with your forest bathing experience.
Forest bathing is done in nature and requires focus but the lessons that it teaches us can be brought into our everyday lives. The next time you’re walking down the street, stop for a moment and take notice of your senses. If you have a yard, spend time feeling the grass or smelling the plants in your garden. Forest bathing is for you everyone so invite your friends or family along with you and introduce them to your new life of relaxation. Give it a try and let us know what your experience is by commenting below or contacting us here.