About Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is about being connected with nature. It involves immersing all your senses in a natural environment - frequently but not always a forested area - and experiencing the mindful pleasure of presence. The format involves structured periods of leisurely walking, sitting, standing, and sharing, all the while connecting with nature in a variety of ways through a series of experiential “invitations.” When forest bathing, we take pleasure and delight in experiencing the natural world through our senses and explore our relationship with it through observation, imagination, and feeling.
To learn the practice, beginners go on walks led by a trained guide. Once you have developed an understanding of the practice and the skills involved, it’s something you can do independently any time.
It’s not about exercise. You aren’t going for a hike. But it is a healthy practice. It’s not about intellectual learning. You don’t learn plant and animal names or how the ecosystem works. But you will connect with them more deeply. While hikes and nature walks are also fantastic and we encourage you to pursue them as well, forest bathing is about simply experiencing the richness of the natural world and building a more personal connection with it. It is a form of mindfulness practice that is deeply enjoyable and important for your health.
Forest bathing allows us the opportunity to simultaneously heal our bodies, our minds, and our relationship with nature. Most of us understand intuitively that being in nature is good for us, and now there are a wide range of scientific studies that help quantify these health benefits.
Studies Have Shown:
- Immune System Enhanced more than 40% (for up to two weeks)
- Stress Indicators Reduced 10 to 20%
- Memory Improvement of up to 20%
Forest bathing provides us with an opportunity to let go of our rushing, our goals, our sense of overwhelm. We can just be, and relax into our surroundings. This, in turn, allows us to be more focused, calm, creative, and present for our coworkers, friends, and family.
Studies of shinrin-yoku have revealed a variety of mental health benefits, including a reduced incidence of common mood disorders like depression and anxiety. It decreases our tendency to ruminate, while increasing feelings of gratitude, wonder, and selflessness.
Time spent in nature has been linked with decreased risk for a huge range of health disorders including infectious disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, migraines, and respiratory disease. A predominant theory is that many of these benefits result from the immune boost provided by forest bathing, which has been shown to increase the count of “natural killer” cells in the body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
WHY IT HELPS
While scientists are still exploring the precise mechanisms by which nature impacts our health, a variety of factors appear to contribute:
- Phytoncides: compounds emitted by trees as part of their own immune response appear to positively impact our own immune systems
- Sunlight and oxygen rich, clean air are both have their own health benefits
- Forest textures, colors, and sounds (birdsong, moving water, and wind in the trees) are all naturally relaxing
- Orienting to mindfulness has benefits regardless of whether in nature, giving forest bathing double benefits
Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku?
Forest bathing goes by many names. Sometimes it’s called forest therapy or nature therapy, particularly in contexts where the goal is to integrate these kinds of practices into the healthcare system to explicitly address physical and mental health challenges.
You may have heard forest bathing called shinrin-yoku elsewhere. This is a Japanese term that was coined in the 80s as part of their efforts to encourage citizens to experience nature for its health benefits. While many popular media stories about forest bathing have emphasized this term, and it’s relatively synonymous, we usually use the term forest bathing because there are some slight differences between Japanese shinrin-yoku and forest bathing as developed by the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy (through which our guides are trained.)
Being deeply connected with nature is a practice as old as human history. Many cultures over time have developed a variety of ways to be present in nature and honor our connection with it.
The recent popular interest in shinrin-yoku and forest bathing reflect the increasingly common recognition that we have lost touch with that connection and that we need to find ways to reconnect.
The term shinrin-yoku was coined in Japan in the early 1980s by the director of the Japanese Forestry Agency, in order to link forest visits to health and wellness-oriented ecotourism. To this day, Japanese shinrin-yoku walks heavily emphasize the scientifically documented health benefits of forest walks. For example, some walks begin and end with measurements of blood pressure and salivary amylase, which are indicators of stress and relaxation that tend to be affected by nature walks.
Countries around the world have been exploring similar approaches. In America, M. Amos Clifford established the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. (See if I can learn a little more about the timeline from some of the press on his website.) Clifford’s version of forest bathing emphasizes ways of connecting and experiencing the natural world that go beyond the five senses emphasized in Japan.
Wisconsin Forest Bathing’s guides are all certified through the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs.