It’s been talked about in National Geographic, The Globe and Mail, CBC, Time, Outside Online, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, on BBC Radio and NPR (to name a few), but what exactly is forest bathing and why should we be doing it? Forest bathing, the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, is a simple concept: use nature as a form of healing therapy. How? It’s easy: just hang out in the woods. Really, that’s all it takes. By simply immersing ourselves in nature, we will feel the therapeutic effects in both body and mind.
What is forest bathing?
Inspired by ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices, forest bathing was formally recognized by Japan in 1982 as a relaxation and stress management activity. The practice has proved so beneficial that Japan’s Forestry Agency has created 48 dedicated trails for forest bathing. And, many countries are following suit, with dedicated trails popping up all over the world. It’s about the mental and physical restorative power of being in nature, and there’s science to back it up.
When we visit the forest, we breathe in something called phytoncides. These are the essential wood oils that trees release into the air. These organic compounds purify the air, but they also do so much more than that. When we inhale these compounds, there are immediate positive effects on our minds and bodies. Dr. Qing Li is one of the world’s foremost medical experts on forest bathing. His research has provided a scientific basis to the feeling of restoration we all have when we emerge from a day spent out in the woods. He, along with others like Canadian scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger and Japanese researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki, have proven that forest bathing isn’t a fad or something to be dismissed.
How do you forest bathe?
Forest bathing is so simple, and chances are, you’ve probably already done it. Head into the woods and explore. That’s all it takes. If there’s no forest close by, any greenspace will yield positive effects. Forest bathing is not about exercise, hiking or getting your heart rate going. It’s about the opposite: slowing down, being present, and taking time to observe your surroundings. Forest bathing is a meditative practice, in which you use all five senses to take in the atmosphere. Walk, sit down, observe. Enjoy the forest around you. Breathe in. It’s that easy. Keep your phone in your pocket, or better yet, don’t even bring it. Beresford-Kroeger suggests a good guideline of walking about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) in 2 hours. But there’s no need to track your distance or even be aware of how far you’ve gone. Just take it slow and spend some time out in nature. Even 20 minutes will have positive effects. You can also diffuse some conifer essential oils in your home. Pine, white fir, birch, cedarwood, cypress and balsam fir are just a few examples of oils that work well.
What are the health benefits of forest bathing?
There has been a shift away from nature, which some have called “nature deficit disorder.” Dr. Li notes a study commissioned by the EPA that states that Americans, on average, spend 93% of their time indoors. 93%! We are addicted to technology, with most of us spending 8 hours or more a day staring at a screen. As a collective, we’ve become angry, depressed, anxious, mentally dulled down and physically unfit. Forest bathing can change that. It should be considered preventative medicine. Based on the research done, forest bathing has been shown to:
- Decrease mental stress
- Fight depression
- Relieve anxiety and reduce stress hormones
- Reduce blood pressure
- Combat obesity
- Lessen fatigue
- Improve human immune function
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve cognition
- Ramp up creativity
- Increase empathy
- Prevent cancer generation and development
- Fight heart disease and diabetes
Want to learn more about forest bathing?
In addition to the links we provided above, we’ve compiled a few extra resources for those interested in learning more about the practice of forest bathing. Dr. Qing Li’s new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, is receiving great press and was what sparked us to write this post. M. Amos Clifford’s Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature is another well-reviewed book on the topic. Florence Williams, the investigative journalist behind the Outside Online and National Geographic stories, has published the NY Times best selling book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. Canadian scientist and forest medicine expert Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s book The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us, was the inspiration for the film on our much-watch list, Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees.
Have you tried forest bathing before or read any books on the subject? Have resources of your own that you think are worth sharing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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