The new year is a fresh start and the perfect opportunity to begin practicing mindfulness. While yoga, meditation, and tai chi are popular ways to bring peaceful awareness into your life, forest bathing is a growing trend that’s rising in the ranks amongst wellness practitioners. The Japanese mindfulness practice can help lower stress levels while forging a connection with nature amidst the chaos of our busy lives — and it’s easier to do than you might think.
What Is Forest Bathing?
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to “forest bath,” was first developed in the 1980s. Created as a way to combat urban stressors and city life, forest bathing is a practice that asks you to observe your surroundings using your five senses. By paying close attention to the natural world, forest bathing encourages people to slow down in order to foster a connection to something outside of themselves.
Originally from China, Dr. Qing Li has been at the forefront of Japan’s forest bathing movement for decades. As the practice’s biggest champion, Li has led several research studies on the mindfulness technique, in addition to writing Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.
In an excerpt from his book, Li writes “(Forest bathing) is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”
How Do You Go Forest Bathing?
If you already take frequent walks in the woods, you may be thinking, “I forest bathe all the time.” But going for a walk with your dog is a very different experience than forest bathing. When you’re walking quickly, it’s likely that your mind is focused on several different things at once. At any given moment, you might be calling your dog’s name, stepping over a tree root, or waving to a fellow walker — but you’re not focused on the world around you.
In contrast, when you’re forest bathing, it’s an act of mindfulness that requires being in the present moment. Li suggests employing your senses and connecting to your intuition as a way of “letting the forest in.” This might mean taking some deep breaths and centering yourself before you observe your surroundings. Next, spend time noticing the colors of the leaves, the smell of the forest floor, or the texture of tree bark. Another helpful tip for forest bathing is to pretend that you’re seeing the woods for the first time and to use this curiosity to consciously connect with nature.
In order to receive all the health benefits of forest bathing, it’s recommended to be in the woods for at least two hours, if not more. However, if you’re new to forest bathing, it’s fine to start with a shorter time limit and then work your way up to longer periods as you become more comfortable with the practice.
Why You Should Try It
Before you write off forest bathing as another passing wellness trend, you should know that it has several evidence-based health benefits. As a preventative healthcare measurement, forest bathing is a stress reducer that, some studies suggest, assists in potentially countering such serious ailments such as cancer, strokes, depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular problems. At the same time, studies have shown that it reduces insomnia, strengthens the immune system, and lowers blood pressure.
Why is spending quality time with the forest so good for you? Trees and plants contain chemicals called phytoncides, which are released naturally into the air. When inhaled, phytoncides make good things happen in the human body. These chemicals have been linked to increasing white blood cells, which helps reduce your risk of cancer, in addition to boosting the immune system and fighting inflammation. Since forest bathing is low impact, these benefits can be reaped by people of all ages and abilities.
Best Places for Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is best practiced in a wooded area, although similar effects can be achieved in any natural setting. If you don’t have access to a forest, try the mindfulness technique at a nearby park, beach, or lake — any outdoor place where you can find peace and quiet without outer distraction.
If you’re interested in trying the experience with a guide, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy offers a map of forest therapy guides around the world. These guides will lead you through the practice of forest bathing, providing tips and tricks to moving mindfully through the woods. While hiring a guide is sure to be helpful, Li claims that guides aren’t always necessary if you have a willingness to try on your own.
Forest Bathing Around the Globe
As an increasingly popular wellness technique, forest bathing is an excellent way to inspire mindful travel. By discovering some of the world’s most beautiful forests, you can also decrease your stress levels, improve your health, and find meaningful connections to nature.
If you’re looking to forest bathe closer to home, there are plenty of opportunities within the U.S. The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, located in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, often offers forest bathing workshops in the spring and autumn. The magnificent redwood and giant sequoia forests of northern California are other awe-inspiring locations for forest bathers, with Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Sequoia National Park providing the perfect backdrops for being mindful. And as one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S., the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is home to an array of mosses, trees, and water sources that will be a feast for the senses.
Elsewhere around the world, the possibilities are endless for forest bathing. The Ohboa Forest, located two hours outside of Kyoto, Japan in the homeland of forest bathing will make you feel like you’re nestled in a restful world of greenery. Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest is unique in that it allows you to explore the rainforest’s upper canopy, while the Black Forest in Germany — most famous for inspiring the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales — has an abundance of well-maintained forest trails, all tranquil for mindful exploration.