Forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku in Japan, is the practice of immersing yourself within nature. Developed in the 1980s, it soon became a nationwide sensation once people began to experience the benefits of it for themselves. Forest bathing was seen as the ultimate way to prevent hypertension, heart disease and reduce stress levels. Recently, the buzz around forest bathing made its way to other countries as well and people began to get curious about what exactly this involves.
Shinrin-yoku requires you to simply be in the presence of trees and actively take it all in. It might sound simple, but reflect for a minute on just how dependent you are on technology and the company of others. To effectively participate in forest bathing, you need to focus on nature and absolutely nothing else. The goal here is to attain peace of mind and not to burn calories. This means you can leave your Fitbit at home because getting distracted by checking how many steps you’ve taken, is the last thing you need. You are also strongly discouraged from using your cell phone because it can break the deep reverie you’re supposed to be in. So if you want to go into the woods so you can get the perfect selfie, you’re breaking the rules of forest bathing.
So how do you forest bathe the right way? Shinrin-yoku requires you to focus on nature and nothing else. Even if you go for a walk in the woods with your friend, forest bathing is a lot more effective if you don’t talk. You can’t mindlessly wander in the woods either, all your senses need to be tuned in to your surroundings. This means smelling the scent of the forest, looking at the different trees, listening to the birds chirping and the leaves rustling beneath your feet. Because exercise isn’t the focus of forest bathing, you don’t even have to walk around a lot. If you feel like just sitting down and taking it all in, that’s perfectly fine too. The goal here is to engage yourself fully with the forest around you. Don’t try to walk too fast because this could interfere with you trying to slow down your mind.
Forest bathing doesn’t just have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support it. Scientific studies have shown how shinrin-yoku has a very real effect on those who practice it. One study showed that people walking in forests had 16% lower cortisol levels in their bodies than those walking on city streets. Since the cortisol hormone is responsible for your stress levels and the corrosive effect it can have on your body, forest bathing regularly could help you control it. But it isn’t just the calming effects of being in nature that revives you, it’s also because of the chemicals secreted by the trees themselves.
Phytoncide is a compound secreted by plants to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncide might ward off insects, but it has beneficial effects on our immunity. One study showed that after forest bathing for a few hours a week, participants had a significantly higher white blood cell count than they did before. WBCs are responsible for protecting us from diseases, and most important, in fighting cancer cells. By forest bathing, you could be arming your body to win the war against cancer.
Shinrin-yoku also has several psychological benefits. Being in nature calms your body’s fight-or-flight response and reduces cortisol levels. This can be a very effective therapeutic practice for those suffering from anxiety or depression. The lack of any distractions while forest bathing, also makes it a great tool in managing attention deficit disorder in children.
But apart from the very clear benefits it offers your body, shinrin-yoku is also a great way to heal yourself holistically. Being in nature with no external distractions gives you a rare opportunity to reconnect with yourself. It takes you away from your tedious daily chores, helping you look at the bigger picture of your life. A few hours of forest bathing could be all you need to find fulfillment in your life again.