Forest bathing is what it sounds like. This is a Japanese therapy to help cope with and manage stress, by immersing yourself completely in natural surroundings. Whilst it’s not a literal bath, forest bathing is a sensory bath. Every one of us is surrounded by tons of nature, which also lives inside of us. This is why it is silly to not tap into its impactful and powerful beauty of nature.
Whilst we don’t all live amongst beautiful forests in Japan, anxiety is rapidly taking over many of our minds. That’s why you’ve got to find your way to nature, somehow. Even if it means taking a stroll in a quiet park with trees. In Japan, forest bathing is a traditional therapy called ‘Shinrin-Yoku.’ Usually, when people first hear this term, they imagine themselves destressing in a steaming hot spring surrounded by trees. However, there’s no water involved. Rather, forest bathing is a sensory experience where you submerge yourself in the atmosphere of the forest itself. You’ve got to really focus on an experience like this. The goal is to achieve a sensory connection to the environment which promises to elevate your mood and reduce anxiety.
The most beautiful aspect of forest bathing is that it’s not serving the purpose of the exercise. So this time must not be rushed, you need to walk slowly and comfortably for a true sensory connection to occur. You could even say that it’s a point of reaching ‘Japanese Zen.’ Art? But, on an everyday note, it’s a practice that will significantly improve anybody’s quality of life. The therapy goes way back too. Forest walking was made official in 1982 by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. They introduced it as a way to help people cope with overwork, economic hardship, and other modern-day stressors. While stress and anxiety are now at an all-time high, unconventional techniques like these are needed most. Forest bathing is a healing practice, and a means to achieve greater wellbeing through nature.
We’re about to venture into a heightened stressful era, so this might be more relevant now than ever.
Forest Bathing And Talking To The Flowers
Perhaps our grannies or mothers who often talk to their plants have been doing it right all along. Think about how much energy we get just from plants…So why do we not connect to them more often?
Our grandmothers and mothers weren’t crazy, although we may have believed they were back then. Forest bathing is about exploring a ‘more-than-human’ world. So many new challenges have been thrown our way this year, but the biggest one being maintaining a meaningful connection with nature. Particularly if you’re still under quarantine or self-isolating and under strict regulations. Many of these restrictions and fears might be keeping you away from enjoying your favorite places outdoors.
It’s quite ironic because the best thing we can all do to support our health and well-being at this time is to connect to nature.
What Is Forest Bathing?
This is an ancient therapy that considers that there is a world out there of trees and earth that can support you, and your healing, especially during stressful times. The Japanese people have scientifically proven that the relaxing and healing effects of the forest are not only subjective.
In fact, ‘Forest Therapy’ goes even deeper. It draws from the beneficial effects of immersion in forests and other natural areas. These can all improve our physical and mental well-being.
During the 1980s Japanese people experienced a culture of extreme stress and overwork. This sounds familiar, right? Well, that’s why you need forest bathing. The entire practice of forest bathing involves slowing down, focusing on your senses, and spending time in a forest area or natural environment. Apparently, this therapy has been so successful that there are 62 certified forests across the country and more being planned.
What Are The Benefits Of Forest Bathing?
The Forest Therapy Society of Japan states several scientifically proven health benefits of Forest Therapy®:
- Reduces cortisol levels (stress-related hormones).
- Calms your nervous system.
- Lowers your heart rate.
- Relieves tension and improves mood.
- Boosts the immune system and increases the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells. These are your cancer- and tumor-fighting white blood cells.
- Increases the production of anti-cancer protein.
Another theory believes that placing ourselves in a gentle, natural environment more accurately reflects our lives as human beings across evolution. As opposed to our modern, urban, artificial, and stressful world today. Therefore, if we look at history, forest bathing is nothing new. In fact, it’s a very familiar practice that is both relaxing and soothing for our minds and bodies.
Moreover, other research on mindfulness and compassion explains that forest bathing is also dose-dependent. This means the more we do it, the more we reap the benefits. In a professional setting, you’d go on a forest bathing experience with a guide. However, to practice forest bathing at home on your own, you need to start to slow down. The experience should last at least two hours. The walk must calm your mind, allowing your senses to take over, so you can enjoy the aliveness of the natural world that is freely available to us.
Any Kind Of Nature Works
This means that even if you’re living in an apartment block, with no beautiful natural forests for miles. That’s okay because research shows that even ‘fake nature’ can have positive health benefits. That means just looking at a photograph of a natural environment helps. So, just by gazing or communing with that plant in your living room or by looking out at a vista of trees from your window. You can lower your stress and even improve your attention.
Another issue of quarantine is that many of us are isolated and touch-deprived. Experts explain that touch is the first sense we develop as humans. This means that being touch-deprived can have negative effects on our health and well-being. What’s a good way around this issue? All of us are able to stimulate the pressure receptors under our skin by touching and feeling things in our natural environment that have texture. For example, touching the trunk of a tree or a plant or moss. It also helps to touch a pet or a nice smooth rock.
It’s sort of laughable how we resort to all other forms of pills and potions to try and reduce stress. When the ultimate stress-buster is all around us. Essentially, when you look at or touch a tree, you feel better. So says Dr. Qing Li, a researcher from Japan who focuses on something called forest medicine.
Li’s work confirms what intuition and common sense have long told us. This is that being around trees is healthy. There’s more to it though. Li has found that spending time in nature is not just good for those of us who are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or fatigued which is everyone. Nature can have positive effects on sleep, energy levels, immune function, cardiovascular and metabolic health. This research is well-known in Japan, and the idea of ‘forest bathing’ is practiced regularly. It’s all about spending time in nature with purpose and attention. Yet, regular visits to the pharmacy are still on the rise in the US and other Western societies.
Finding More Calm Than Ever Before
For years, Japanese people have known about the profound effects of nature. From festivals commemorating seasonal change to countless idioms used in everyday life. Yet Japan’s rapid shift to modernity contrasts sharply with its naturalist disposition.
It took less than a century for Japan to change from an almost equal division between rural and urban living to a landslide 91% residing in cities. And guess what happened? There was an increase in depression and health problems. Moreover, the extreme societal pressures of working life in Japan took over the lives of many. During the ’60s, it got so bad that people started dying from heart failure and suicide. Forest bathing was and still remains their number one saving grace.
Dr Li explains that forest bathing also reduces the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This will allow your body to get out of a ‘fight or flight’ response and move to ‘rest and recover.’ Amazingly, after regular forest bathing, subjects exhibited lower blood pressure, better sleep, and increased immunity for up to 30 days after their sessions. Other studies showed improvements in friendliness along with reduced anxiety, hostility, and acute stress.
We Could Use a Screen And Digi-Break Too
There’s no doubt that we’ve all drastically increased our screen time due to quarantine and the outbreak of the virus. We are constantly working online or using some form of digital technology. That’s why forest bathing is even more important. It helps to eliminate ‘technostress’ which is that feeling you get when you’re glued to a phone.
Going forest bathing stops you from being constantly bombarded with updates on the stresses of the world, paralyzed by a pandemic. Do you know what all of this information is doing to your poor brain? It’s time for a much-needed mental break. We need time free of external stimuli perfect for collecting thoughts, clearing the mind, or meditating.
Forest Bathing Stimulates The Senses
We very rarely ever stimulate all our senses at once.
But a close connection with nature has this ability. There is an all-encompassing power present in a natural forest or nature. Simply taking in the quiet atmosphere, beautiful scenery, refreshing scent, and clean air through all five senses will do wonders for your health. Pay special attention to:
- Sight: the colors of nature, especially the green, yellow, and red leaves.
- Smell: the fragrance emitted by trees.
- Hearing: nature sounds and bird songs.
- Touch: engaging with the forest with your whole body.
- Taste: the flavor of foods, especially fruits, from the forest.
Apparently, scents or phytoncides that are given off by trees, have the greatest effect on us. Phytoncides are the natural oils within a plant, and they’re part of a tree’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Phytoncides have shown to help lift depression and anxiety and decreased levels of stress hormones. Research has also discovered that they can even boost natural killer cell activity and the production of anti-cancer proteins.
Try Forest Bathing In Your Own Home
Convinced enough to give forest bathing a try? Great, because we’ve got some ways you can practice on your own in your house or your yard. This is particularly beneficial if you don’t have access to an outdoor setting. Just remember that this is meant to be therapy, so it shouldn’t be forced. Ultimately you need to follow your intuition and decide what feels good to you.
It is best to disconnect from all your devices, switch them off before you begin, or put them on airplane mode. No pictures taken either. Try thinking of this time as a technology break because you need it.
You can also plan to go for a walk outside in nature, somewhere you enjoy. But if there’s no way of getting out of your house, then you can do it in your backyard. If you have no access to any green area whatsoever, then stand inside near a home plant or look outside your window or balcony for some trees. If none of this is possible, then you can look at a photograph or use your imagination.
Learning To Notice, Listen And Appreciate
We also recommend supporting your body and mind by listening to natural sounds of various kinds. For example, listening to the sound of a water fountain or smelling some essential oils made from coniferous trees. It’s also a great idea to incorporate some elements of nature inside your homes like some pot plants, a pretty rock, a pine cone, or a pretty leaf.
Allow yourself to trust in the process of letting go and soaking up these elements of nature as much as possible. Forest bathing can be done anywhere at any time. You just need to commit to opening yourself up to new, peaceful, and harmonious experiences. Your health will thrive when you do.
The Bottom Line
The best way to go on regular forest bathing experiences is to simply notice and focus on your physical surroundings. To tune into the beauty, the sounds, the smells, and the fresh air. It means switching off, slowing down, and opening up the mind to mother nature. We want to open up this beautiful practice of forest bathing for you. So go on and give it a try, and let us know how you feel afterward.
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Japanese “Forest Bathing” Is the Anxiety Reliever You Need Right Now. Thrillist. https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/what-is-forest-bathing-how-to-guide
A Guided Forest Therapy Walk — for Quarantine & Beyond. Thrive Global. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/a-guided-forest-therapy-walk-for-quarantine-beyond/
The Science—and Magic—of Forest Bathing. GOOP. https://goop.com/wellness/spirituality/the-science-and-magic-of-forest-bathing/