What is Forest Bathing? Our co-founder, Michelle had never heard of the term but she certainly found all the benefits of forest bathing when she found herself in the wild. She was like most of us, disconnected from the natural world. Technology has taken over our lives to the point where we eat, sleep, work, and play indoors without ever stepping on the soft earth of the forest.
In fact, according to one study, most Americans spend 93 percent of their lives inside of enclosed buildings and vehicles, which doesn’t leave much time for getting out into nature and forest bathing.
The problem is, human beings are a part of the natural world. Until very recently, historically speaking, we spent most of our time outdoors, living in the wilderness and sleeping under the stars. We grew and evolved in this environment, which is why separating ourselves from nature comes at a significant cost physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The good news is that we can choose to spend more time outdoors. Taking the time to explore and be within a natural environment is rejuvenating, particularly under a forest’s canopy. Forest Bathing offers this healing experience and can have a profound effect on your life.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest Bathing is a form of natural therapy that was first developed in Japan in the 1980s, where it is called Shinrin-yoku. It is based upon numerous scientific studies that point to the benefits of spending time outdoors and in nature. Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy is a vital part of healing and health care in Japan.
The basic concept is to take a walk in the woods without any other motivation, destination, or purpose. Walk, explore, and observe. Immerse yourself in nature and let your senses guide you. Breathe the fresh air and breathe it deeply.
However, Forest Bathing is a lot more than simply taking a stroll through the woods. It is a process that involves your conscious involvement. It is the contemplative and immersive experience of taking in all of the forest’s sights, sounds, and smells.
A Forest Bathing session involves seeking out the rejuvenating benefits of the forest. While under the canopy of the trees, many experience a calming and strengthening of the mind, body, and spirit.
In 1982, Forest Bathing became a part of Japan’s national health program. Since then, a large number of scientific studies have explored the many health benefits of the practice.
How to Go Forest Bathing
Forest Bathing is about relaxation in nature therapy. It’s a seemingly simple process but can take some practice to master, especially if you’re used to the modern technological world’s hustle and bustle. At its core, Forest Bathing involves being mindful of nature and enjoying the forest as a sensory-based experience.
To start, turn off all of your devices and leave the modern world behind. Then, move slowly through the forest, taking your time. Remember, your goal is to awaken your senses and truly feel the forest around you.
Slow your breathing. Take deep breaths and exhale them slowly. Doing this will signal your body to relax. From there, follow your intuition. Walk, look, smell. Stop and sit down if it feels appropriate. Explore your surroundings using all of your senses. Look for details. How do you feel?
Clear your mind of your everyday troubles. Forget about your appointments, schedule, and your to-do list. Instead, engage in mindful observation. Keep your eyes open. What do you see? You might be surprised by the complexity around you. Let the greens and blues of nature soothe you.
Listen to the plants. What do they say? Heeding the natural world’s language can have a profound effect on us, as bryologist Robin Wall Kimmlerer says.
The recommended time for a complete Forest Bathing session is two hours, but any amount of time is beneficial. Stay for as long as you can, and if you’re not comfortable with two hours at first, work your way up to it in future sessions. If you’re not sure where to start, consider signing up for Nature and Forest Therapy.
Healing Benefits of Forest Bathing
If you’ve ever taken the time to go out into nature without the distractions of the modern world, you probably already know how it can make you feel. It relaxes you and has a way of reducing stress and providing a little perspective. However, it has also been scientifically proven to improve a number of conditions.
1. Forest Bathing Reduces Stress
As it turns out, Forest Bathing has been scientifically studied for its stress-reducing effects. People who spend time in the forest see reduced cortisol levels directly linked to heart conditions, asthma, skin problems, and high blood pressure. In this way alone, Forest Bathing helps to boost your immune system.
Forest Bathing has also been shown to increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. This activity plays a crucial role in rest and the conservation of energy. It slows your heart rate down and increases gland activity, thereby lowering cortisol concentrations. In this way, Forest Bathing can prevent and treat heart disease, depression, anxiety, and other mental impairments. It’s even been shown to increase the expression of anti-cancer proteins.
2. Forest Bathing Boosts the Immune System
Forest Bathing also helps to boost your immune system as the hormones produced by stress block many immune responses, including antivirus natural killer cells. Needles to say, this can lead to more sickness and poorer health.
What’s more, healing properties have been discovered from chemicals secreted by evergreen trees. These chemicals, known as phytoncide, have been shown to boost the activity of our frontline defenders. There appears to be a connection between the amount of phytoncide in the air and immune system improvements.
3. Forest Bathing Improves Mental Performance
Another thing that Forest Bathing can do for you is to improve your mental performance. Spending time in nature clears your head and boosts creativity. After several days in the wilderness, many report a significant improvement in creative problem-solving tasks. Total immersion in nature is the key to a focused and creative mind.
4. Forest Bathing Puts You in a Good Mood
There’s no denying that a long walk in the woods helps to improve your mood. And while all walks are good for your mind and body, walks in nature provide significantly more benefits than walks in urban settings. There are more significant physiological benefits to Forest Walking.
5. Forest Bathing Cultivates a Connection with Nature
When you genuinely pay attention, there’s nothing like the beauty and majesty of the natural world. Immersing yourself in the woods can provide you with a vital shift in perspective. Seeing all that nature has to offer makes your life and problems appear very small in comparison.
It can be a humbling experience but also an empowering one. When you remember that you are a part of the natural world, it has a vitalizing effect. You are connected with the trees all around you, the animals in the brush, and the dirt beneath your feet. Understanding the unity you have with nature therapy is an awe-inspiring experience.
6. Provides a Spiritual Experience
If you can immerse yourself in the forest and let go of your daily life, you can find forest walking an enlightening experience. It’s much easier to connect with the spirit while in nature than in an urban setting.
When you pay attention, you’ll find there’s a lot we can learn from the forest. Forest Bathing enables you to make contact with several qualities of the natural environment, including:
Ultimately, when you can immerse yourself in nature completely, you can embody these qualities and learn from them. They are already a part of you, but you can find healing through conscious awareness of your connection with nature.
Make a Decision to Get Outside Every Day
The truth is, our modern lives are stressful and generally bad for our health. Going out into nature and Forest Walking is the natural remedy. Listening to trees and Forest Walking can help us connect with nature, reduce stress, and live a more fulfilling life.
About the Author
Michelle has always had a love affair with moss. To find out why, check out Robin Wall Kimmerer book, “Gathering Moss.” Also, check out her other must-read that reconnected her to herself and nature, “Nature and the Human Soul.”