By Donna Mazzitelli
Forest bathing originated in Japan, where it is known as shinrin-yoku. It is a popular meditative technique that utilizes the forest for its calming and invigorating effects. Taking a contemplative, tree-focused walk through a forest reconnects an individual with nature and can lead to decreased stress. It also naturally elevates one’s mood and can build a stronger immune system. Forest bathing has been recognized by the Japanese government since 1982 and endorsed by the Forest Agency of Japan as a way to improve a person’s quality of life.
Qing Li, the president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, which was founded in 2007, studied the effects of forest bathing on individuals. Using a mood profile, he found that participants’ feelings of stress, anxiety or anger decreased and their perceptions of energy or vigor improved. In two other related studies, Li and fellow researchers looked at long-term effects by sending groups of young men and women on three-day trips that included several forest baths and a stay in a hotel in the middle of the forest. Blood tests taken before and after showed a significant boost in natural killer cells, which play a vital role in the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Li speculated that forest bathing allows participants to breathe in air from the surrounding trees that contains volatile essential oils and active components such as limonene that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties.
Forest bathing, which can be thought of as focused hiking, is an extremely effective meditative practice. To give forest bathing a try, choose a spot based on your physical ability. Avoid routes that are too strenuous. As a rule of thumb, you should walk no more than three miles in four hours. It’s important to keep in mind that this is not an endurance hike—think of it as a tree-focused meditation. As you walk through the tranquil forest and focus on the towering trees, the leaves and vegetation underfoot and the sounds of birds or other small creatures around you, your busy mind is simultaneously calmed and your stress hormones and blood pressure are lowered. Rest whenever you need by finding a spot where it is pleasant to sit. Focus your attention on the trees around you and take in your surroundings with as many of your senses as possible. Bring along water or green tea to keep yourself well hydrated. If possible, follow your forest bath with a hot spring bath.
Developing a practice by taking a trip to a nearby forest (or heavily wooded area) once a month and engaging in a forest bath, can bring you long-lasting mind-body benefits. If getting to a forest or the woods is not currently possible because of where you live, consider other ways to connect with nature in a more conscious way. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take a daily stroll in a local park.
- Take your lunch break outside in a natural setting, preferably amongst trees, near a creek or in a garden.
- Take a walk in nature with your children and bring along notebooks and pencils to record your observations.
- Create a quiet space in your yard where you can sit and observe local nature.
- Learn to sketch as a hobby and spend some time sketching in a nearby nature spot.
- Take an overnight camping weekend once a month in a natural setting.
Whether or not you can begin a forest bathing practice, keep in mind that by simply spending time in nature as often as possible, you will provide your body and mind with many life-enhancing benefits.
Sources: care2.com, Los Angeles Times
Donna Mazzitelli, “The Word Heartiste,” is the owner and founder of Writing with Donna, where she provides writing and editing services, and Merry Dissonance Press, a book producer/indie publisher of works of transformation, inspiration, exploration, and illumination.