If you are looking to get closer to nature, it doesn’t get much better than forest bathing. The name is a little deceptive — there is no actual bathing involved in this practice. It comes from the idea that spending time with nature, taking it in with all of your senses is not only good for your soul, but has a number of other medicinal benefits.
Forest bathing, or nature therapy as it is sometimes called, is a Japanese concept first introduced in the 1980s. In Japan, the practice is referred to as Shinrin-yoku and it is a form of recreation now widely practiced in many Asian countries including South Korea and Taiwan. Here are a few things we want you to know about the art of forest bathing.
Your Biological Attraction to Nature
A 2017 study done by researchers at the School of Nursing and Health Professions at the University of San Francisco refers to the biological attraction to nature found in humans that dates back to early man. Psychologically and spiritually people intuitively want to spend time in natural settings. It is soothing and creates what these researchers call the “awe” effect that leads to inner peace.
What is Forest Bathing?
The 2017 study focuses specifically on why forest bathing works, but what exactly is it? The goal is to immerse yourself in nature without the distractions and stressors associated with urban life. The Japanese define it as making contact with the atmosphere of the forest. For most people, it could involve anything from taking a long, slow walk to sitting and meditating in the forest.
Doctors have long associated the forest with its tranquilizing effect. Franklin B. Hough, the father of American Forestry, often referred to its benefits when practicing medicine in the mid-1800’s and in his later published work. He went on to be the be the first head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
What are the Benefits of Forest Bathing?
A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Prevention Medicine had researchers observe 280 people undertaking the practice of Shinrin-yoku. What they found was that taking in the forest atmosphere automatically lowers stress levels. The study participants showed reduced levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, plus slower pulse rates and blood pressures. There was clearly a decrease in the part of the nervous system that activates the stress response and an increase in the areas responsible for relaxation.
There is scientific evidence that forest bathing:
Boosts the immune system
Increases the production of the body’s Natural Killer cells (NK)
Increases energy levels
Improves sleep quality
This is not really surprising when you consider the effect that even a visit to the park has on most people. Interacting with trees and other greenery fills a biological void. Forest bathing just takes it to the next level.
How Do You Do It?
There are many different approaches to this kind of nature therapy. Unlike hiking in the woods, forest bathing is more about quality than quantity. If you go it on your own, keep in mind that your goal is not to cover as many miles as possible but to take your time and really experience the nature around you. Slow walking allows you to absorb it with every sense. You don’t have to spend your whole time walking, either. Sit for a while, dip your toe in the occasional stream, practice meditation and watch the wildlife as they go about their business.
If you prefer a more guided approach, look for a class or therapy walk in your area. Many nature reserves like the Wells Reserve at Laudholm are taking up the practice and offer guided forest therapy tours. You can also find books on the subject and downloadable guides to follow as you go. Consider watching an informative YouTube video for advice on how to get the most health benefit from your day in the forest. There are a number of channels dedicated to the art.
There is little doubt that immersing yourself in nature by taking up forest bathing is good for you. All it takes is a willingness to enjoy the beauty around you. Why not plan your next vacation spending time in different forests and wildlife preserves and see what forest bathing can do for you.