What Is 'Forest Bathing' and How Can It Improve Your Health

The power of a walk among the trees.

May 31, 2018

In today’s fast-paced world, many of us search for ways to relax, rejuvenate, and tune-in. Contrary to trendy and sometimes expensive options, the Japanese government has been promoting a simple, inexpensive, and proven method to relax and heal- forest bathing.

Forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku in Japanese) is as simple as it sounds and is centered on being in nature, around trees, and very present.

Forest bathing has been proven to strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. The practice has also been shown to increase the activity of natural killer cells, which are associated with cancer prevention. Studies also show that forest bathing can increase concentration and memory, help you lose weight, and improve cardiovascular and metabolic health. Incredibly, these benefits can even last a whole month after a visit to the forest!

It may seem strange to merely meander a forest in order to reap its health benefits, but as our global society becomes more urbanized, the need to reconnect to nature and absorb its serenity, biodiversity, healing potential, and vitality increases.

So how does one forest bath?

Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness explains “It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”

Li recommends leaving your cell phone and camera behind so that you can be truly present. Allow yourself to connect with your intuition; let your body lead you; and move aimlessly, trusting your internal guide. Saviour every sight, sound, and smell; touch the soil, dip your feet into a stream, and let the forest permeate your senses.

He recommends finding a place that you personally connect to, and to take your time. Once you have absorbed the forest using all your senses, he explains, you will find happiness.

The physiological and psychological health benefits of forest bathing are backed by research that both Qing Li and others have conducted over several decades. In fact, between 2004 and 2012 the Japanese government invested over $4 million in researching the advantages of the practice.

Furthermore, since 1982, the Japanese government has made forest bathing part of its national public health program.

For urban-dwellers, you don’t need to travel far- being in an urban park for as little as 30 minutes can provide you with all the benefits of a good forest bath.

In his book, Li writes “when we open up our senses, we begin to connect to the natural world”; and when we connect to the natural world, we connect to ourselves.

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.

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