Forest bathing — called “shinrin-yoku” in Japan — is a Japanese form of healing therapy that started to grow more widely as a trend back in the 80s. The idea behind it is simple: take a slow, mindful walk through a forest for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits.
Many spas, resorts, and retreat centers now offer guided forest bathing experiences as part of their services, but you don’t necessarily need a guide to take a nice walk yourself (or with a partner/friend). All you need is a park or forested area to visit, a pair of good outdoor walking shoes, and possibly some sunscreen to get in on this wellness trend!
Now couldn’t be more of a perfect time to do it either, given that we’ve now entered that late summer sweet spot where it’s not too hot, not too cold, and the mosquitos are mostly done for the season. Here’s why forest bathing is so beneficial.
Positive Physiological Changes
Immersing ourselves in nature literally changes our bodies on a physical level. Field experiment evidence from 24 Japanese forests showed that walking through a forested area resulted in lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse rates, lower blood pressure, increased parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity when compared to walking through an urban setting.
Forest bathing may even give people an immunity boost. Another Japanese study that examined blood and urine samples from participants who spent three days and two nights on a forest trip revealed that some components of the immune system had increased significantly after the trip was completed compared to before the trip.
Brain Function Enhancement
Walking through a forest is perhaps just as beneficial as viewing the surrounding trees, plants, water, birds, and other natural aspects. Our minds get a break from critical thinking and problem solving as the pleasure-seeking and empathetic parts of the brain become activated. The same effect can sometimes be experienced by looking at photos of natural environments, although it’s much weaker in comparison to actually being there yourself.
Natural environments provide us with a mood boost too. Research has shown that those who live in urban areas have a 20 percent higher risk of suffering from anxiety and a 40 percent higher risk of having a mood disorder when compared to those living in rural areas.
Forest bathing is a form of mindfulness meditation. It’s a grounding activity stemming from Buddhist practices that gets you back in touch with the here and now. And because forest bathing is a totally immersive experience that activates all senses, it opens us up to rediscovering the very reality that we are not separate from nature.
If you can walk in a forested area and use your sense of sight, smell, sound, touch, and yes, even taste to experience the natural environment around you, then you’re doing it right. To make things even more interesting, try tracking how you feel both before and after a forest bathing trip as a record of how much it’s really benefiting you.