The Benefits of Forest Bathing

What is Forest Bathing

I did some communing with nature deep in the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park this weekend. As my boyfriend and I slowly walked into the park, winding our way along a rustic elk path that paralleled the majestic pacific coast, I could feel myself dropping into a level of presence and relaxation that allowed me to let go of future concerns or worries of the past and to just be. We spent several hours taking in the stunning beauty, at times in silence, listening to the bird and insect sounds all around us. Nothing else refreshes me quite the same way as time spent in nature and I do some version of it every weekend.

The Japanese coined the term shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” in the early 80’s. Since that time, forest bathing has become a popular ritual of preventative health care in Japan. In the decades that have followed, several robust studies have proven the health benefits of simply spending time in under the canopy of a living forest or in a natural area. Once again, science has backed up this practice we intuitively know is great for us.  

Benefits of Forest Bathing·      

  • Time spent in nature significantly improves mood and feelings of vibrant health in countless studies replicated in a variety of cultures.

  • Walking in a forest decreases levels of stress hormone cortisol by more than 13%, which when chronically high, causes risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease weight gain and memory impairment.

  • Forest bathing supports the parasympathetic nervous system that allows us to “rest and digest” and decreases stress based ailments such as headaches, hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis.

  • Boosting immune function: the natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncide, have also been associated with improvements in the activity of our frontline immune defenders.

  • In a 2007 study, men taking two hour walks in the woods over a two day period exhibited a 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells—the body's disease fighting agents.

  • Spark creativity- spending time in nature supports creativity and mental focus. A study of Outward Bound participants found that mental concentration and creative problem solving was 50% better after 3 days in the wilderness.

  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we say that time in nature increases flow of qi and blood as well as calming the shen, or spirit. All physiological and mental-emotional health springs from this natural flow of qi and blood and grounding of shen.

Tips on Forest Bathing:

Forest bathing does not have to be complicated or intimidating. I guarantee all of you have done some form of this at some point in your life already.

  1. Simply take yourself to a natural area where you feel safe and comfortable. It can be a local park, the beach or even your favorite leafy street.

  2. Put away all phones and media.

  3. Walk in a slow, relaxed way.

  4. Take a few minutes to be silent and to engage your senses of sight, smelling, listening as well as feeling- such as the warmth of the sun on your face or the texture as you touch a tree or hold a smooth, cold stone.

  5. Notice your breathing, and take a few nice deep breaths as you enjoy the environment.

Our media- driven lives tend to distract us from opportunities to enjoy the nature all around us. Consider making a regular date with yourself to spend intentional time outdoors. Ideally we should spend 20 minutes every day forest bathing. Even a couple times per week is a good start. Enjoy your nature time and let me know what kind of changes you notice afterward!