Everything You Need to Know About Forest Bathing
It isn’t hard to do, it can improve your health and well-being.
Modern life can wear you down. Many of us spend an extraordinary amount of time hunched over computers at work, and then commute home only to spend the evening hunched in front of phones and televisions. Modern conveniences can be necessary and often helpful, but they can sometimes leave you feeling... well, less than your best self. One possible solution? Swapping buildings for trees. Forest bathing, aka shinrin-yoku in Japanese (where the idea originated) is the practice of going into the woods—either alone or with others—with the goal of unplugging, unwinding, and connecting with nature. “Forest bathing is full immersion in the beauty and wonder of nature,” says Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author of The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect with Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life.
According to Choukas-Bradley, forest bathing started in the 1980s, but it's rooted in the ancient Japanese reverence for nature that's woven into the Shinto and Buddhist tradition. Forest bathing has been growing in popularity, and it helps that there’s research that points to physical and mental benefits of the practice. A recent review of over 100 medical studies found that spending time in greenspace was associated with a ton of benefits, like improved cardiovascular health, decreased incidences of asthma and stroke, and better self-reported health. Another review of studies from the past decade found that people not only felt more relaxed after forest bathing but had lower blood pressure, too.
You don’t need special equipment or skills to forest bathe, and you can do it pretty much anywhere. A local park, nearby woods, or even your own backyard can all work. You can forest bathe for 20 minutes, or an entire day. You can even go on longer guided forest bathing expeditions, hosted by forest therapy guides, certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Program in Sonoma, California. Whatever works for you.
After picking a location, dress in comfortable clothing and shoes. Pack a backpack with plenty of water, snacks, and a mat if you plan to lie down. When you get to the location, turn off your phone or put it in airplane mode. As Choukas-Bradley explains, “I tell people to think of the airplane mode on their phones as forest-bathing mode.”
From there, you head into the area to explore. “You're not really going on a big hike,” says Choukas-Bradley. “It's not a destination thing. It's more akin to mindfulness practices like tai chi, yoga, and meditation, where you're going to be moving slowly. Sometimes you're walking slowly. Sometimes you're sitting or lying on the ground or leaning up against a tree.”
The goal is slow down and tune in with all of your senses. Look around and take in the beauty. Smell the flowers, the bark, and the earth. Listen to the rustling of leaves, the sounds of animals, and any water if there’s some nearby. Touch your surroundings—as long as you’re not disturbing anything and you’re sure it’s not poisonous!
The goal is to disconnect from all of the hustle and bustle and connect to the earth. “This is a wonderful planet that we live on, and there's so much to experience here, and we are all so busy that we just don't take the time to slow down and notice how beautiful our surroundings are,” says Choukas-Bradley. Please excuse me while I close my laptop and do just that.
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