Forest Bathing is spending time in a forest to reduce stress and feel a sense of wellbeing. It originated in Japan, where it is called shinrin-yoku, and it is now one of the cornerstones of Japanese healthcare. The Japanese have known for years that spending mindful time in the woods is beneficial for body and soul.
Forest bathing isn’t the kind of bath where you strip down and hop in a tub (next to your Geberit Aquaclean shower bidet.). You don’t have to be naked to do it. At least, not necessarily naked. Forest bathing is about basking in nature, in greenery—and you can wear whatever you want. If you have ever sat under a tree or walked through the woods, you probably already know why you should try forest bathing. Each of us is intrinsically connected to the world around us, to nature. We are inspired by it, in awe of its vastness and wildness. Standing on a mountain ridge or looking out across the ocean underneath palm trees and mangroves, we are immediately struck by the way nature invites us to contemplate life, infinity, the universe, everything. This innate connection, or biophilia, often leads us to feel at home and relaxed in nature. Some people feel more grounded and steady, mirroring the roots of the trees. Other people sense clarity as they breathe deeper and more easily. Still others may feel protected and at ease from the smells of the trees, echoing the role these scents play in the lives of trees. Over the past few years, forest bathing has surged in popularity in North America, alongside other quiet, minimalist activities such as hygge and the KonMari method of tidying up. Although the roots of forest bathing officially started in Japan, you don’t have to travel far to feel the health benefits of standing among tree giants. You don’t need any specialized gear or training to get started with forest bathing. In fact, some version of forest bathing has been an integral part of human lives in most places around the world since the dawn of time.
Forest bathing is a literal translation of shinrin-yoku, a term coined by the Japanese government in the 1980s to encourage urbanites to immerse themselves in nature to reduce stress and support overall health. The benefits of forest bathing go beyond the romanticism of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden or the activism of John Muir. These days, there is hard science to support the claims of health benefits we’ve been hearing about for years.
Throughout human history, we’ve taken the benefits of being outside for granted. We spent most of our time outside, so there was no reason to think about why and how being in nature might actually be good for us. Or necessary. Now that we’re inside more often than out, we’re starting to realize that we need to be outside because we belong there. Spending too much time in the gray spaces of concrete buildings and sidewalks can have deleterious effects on our health. It can make us sadder, less active, more nearsighted, less focused, more stressed, and less capable of fighting off infections. On the other hand, spending more time in the green and blue spaces of the natural world can help to normalize blood pressure and blood sugar, build resilience to stress, increase vitamin D stores, encourage healthy aging, ameliorate mood, and enhance cognitive functions. It is these health-promoting and disease-preventing effects that have propelled forest bathing into popularity as a relaxation and stress management activity.