6 Benefits Of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is not a new practice. Many ancient cultures were well aware of the positive connection between humans and nature. But it wasn’t until the Japanese coined their own name for it – shinrin-yoku, which means forest bathing, or taking in the forest atmosphere – that the exercise began to grow into a more mainstream health trend in Japan in the 1980s. People practiced forest bathing as a way to counteract tech burnout and the disconnect from nature that many people experience in modern society.
The preventive medicine was intended to improve both psychological and physiological health, and by the 1990s, the act of forest bathing caught the eye of researchers because of its fast and widespread popularity amongst the Japanese population. It is often referred to as a form of ecotherapy. Researchers looking into the possible benefits of the exercise found the science to back up the claims that being in nature is good for both the body and the mind. So what is forest bathing, exactly? And what are its health benefits?
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing is often confused with hiking in the woods or meditating amongst the trees – however, it’s not quite either of those things. It’s a slow-burn mindfulness exercise that sees participants walking slowly through wooded areas in a way that allows them to use all of their senses to connect with the ground and nature surrounding them. The aim is to interact deeply and meaningfully with the forest.
During a guided forest bathing session, people are asked to draw on their senses separately to experience things a little deeper as they slowly wander through the woods. For example, if the guide refers people to focus on their sight, they will watch for birds and other forest creatures, or observe the subtle movements of the leaves as the wind blows. In the case of touch, participants might feel the textures of the forest, from tree bark to moss and everything in between.
Although guided forest bathing can help you learn how to do it most effectively, the exercise can also be done alone. By experiencing the forest around you and being mindful about the time you spend with nature, you are allowing yourself to soak up your surroundings, live in the moment, and reap the rewards of being in nature.
Why is forest bathing healthy?
Forest bathing can benefit you in a myriad of different ways. Regular participating in forest bathing has been shown to help reduce the production and levels of the stress hormone. When people experience high levels of stress, that hormone can wreak havoc on the body by causing widespread inflammation. It has also been shown to cause or worsen mental illnesses, heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke. By mitigating stress with forest bathing, however, you can lower the risk of those illnesses or lessen the symptoms of conditions you may already have.
Forest bathing has also been shown to help boost the immune system, which is a vital component to your overall health. Without a properly functioning immune system, you’re more susceptible to infection and the development of chronic illnesses later in life. Finally, forest bathing can also help to foster creativity, boost your mood, and accelerate recovery from injuries.
How does forest bathing affect anxiety and depression?
Anxiety and depression are widespread mental illnesses that affect millions of people. It is estimated that at least one in every 13 people on the planet will suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives, and over 260 million people across the globe deal with depression. Although those numbers seem high, it’s thought that 75% of people in developing countries with mental disorders remain untreated. And those numbers are just continuing to rise.
However, research has shown that forest bathing helps reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. One particular study found that even after just one day, those with depressive tendencies showed a significant improvement in their symptoms.
Research has shown that even people living in cities who had some access to nature were found to have increased activity in their amygdala, a part of the brain that has been linked to the development and activity of depression and anxiety.
The prefrontal cortex, the command center of the brain, has been shown to be greatly affected by nature, to the point where it can encourage the brain to truly rest. Because of this, symptoms of an overactive and stressed-out brain are decreased. So, to put it simply: being in nature helps the brain shut off and rest when it needs to, and reduces activity that can lead to or worsen mental illness.
How often should I forest bathe?
To get the most out of forest bathing, it’s suggested that you do it every day for at least 20 minutes. This might seem difficult, especially to those who live nowhere near nature or a forest, because it can be near impossible to take that time out of a busy day. But anything is better than nothing when it comes to forest bathing!
You can start slow by easing yourself into the exercise. Go to a wooded area, remove your shoes, put away any distractions like your cell phone, and spend some time walking slowly through the area, paying attention only to the things around you. Once you get the hang of being in the moment during forest bathing, the practice will become that much easier.
If you can’t get to the forest every day, you should simply aim to forest bathe as much as possible. Doing so once per week, or even once a month, can help you to slow your brain down and reap the benefits of this ancient type of preventive medicine.