Have you heard about forest bathing? Many are enjoying this new way of walking in the wood to enjoy a greater sense of peace and lower everyday stress levels.
Discover the history and health benefits of this healing practice. Plus simple ways to get started locally even in your own backyard.
Forest Bathing: Finding Tranquility in Nature
Are you ready to go of your stress and restore your zest for life by basking in the quietude of nature’s forest retreats?
There’s something about forest bathing that seems to seep into the very deepest place in us. Touching rough or smooth tree bark, listening to the wind rustling through the leaves, and the sounds of birds and other forest creatures calling from the security of high branches is like listening to the voice of a sympathetic counselor. It’s a timeless prayer for sanctuary and peace.
It reminds us how relatively small we are. It reminds us how much greater we can be. Through life’s storms and challenges, we, too, can keep growing and becoming more. The forest is an inspiration and a voice of truth.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is the practice of purposefully immersing all of yourself in the forest atmosphere. It’s allowing yourself time to take in a natural setting with all your senses.
Listen to the sounds of the forest. Look, touch, and breathe in scents unadulterated by human design. Quiet everyday thoughts in favor of a few minutes of solitude and peaceful contemplation.
Shinrin-yoku has been gaining steady popularity in the few decades since its introduction, though the practice itself is as ancient as the trees. Recent studies agree that adding forest bathing to your weekly routine offers a wide range of mental, emotional, and physical health benefits.
History of Forest Bathing
Japan has worked hard to keep its forest areas protected in a land where space is limited, and the population often must live in cramped quarters. Shinrin-yoku, which literally means “forest bathing,” was developed in the early 1980s and has since become part of Japan’s national health program.
This mobile type of meditation was designed to meet pressing physiological and psychological health needs. Participants can find relief from tech-boom burnout and inspiration to reconnect with a forest setting in a largely urban environment.
How Can Forest Bathing Help with Stress?
Many studies have been conducted in Japan and other countries where shinrin-yoku is encouraged. The results of these studies show a clear benefit for relieving stress and boosting overall health.
Physical effects: Of course, any regular physical activity is a boon for overall health. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency estimates most Americans spend an average of 93% of their time indoors. Just 20-30 minutes of forest bathing several times a week has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate. It has also been shown to reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
Psychological effects: A combination of 15 minutes of walking and 15 minutes of quiet observation in a forest setting has been shown to greatly increase relaxation and mood.
Studies have focused on areas such as tension and anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and overall energy levels. Forest bathing increases brain function and helps prepare individuals to better handle day-to-day demands.
Many other profitable results of forest bathing. Here are a few:
- Overcome negative thoughts
- Increase confidence
- Improve relationships
- Allows time to make important decisions
- Helps control cravings, defeat addictions
- Can help prevent the beginnings of stress disorders such as high blood pressure
How to Get Started: Beginners Tips
The first question many folks ask is: How Often Should I Forest Bathe? At least two hours a week is recommended to reap the highest benefits of forest bathing. Making these times a priority can become a cherished part of your physical and mental health regimen.
The stages of forest bathing are sometimes listed as attention, awareness, and answers. Through the process of turning your thoughts away from stress, you can find the clear solutions that have been eluding you and the strength to take the right paths for yourself and your loved ones.
1. Go Quietly. Go Slowly.
The goal is to connect with nature through sensory immersion. Allow the quiet strength of nature to infuse your racing thoughts and emotions with the peace that rules in such spaces.
2. Attention: Focus On Particular Objects Of Nature.
Look up at the sunlight filtering through the trees. Or close your eyes and listen to the murmuring leaves and other sounds of the forest. Pick up a leaf or branch and explore unique design and texture. These are ways of gaining control over your own thoughts and emotions.
3. Awareness: Consider The Natural Course Of Life In The Forest.
Consider the idea of a small seed growing into a great tree, the value of light and shadow, the need for both storm and peace, the way living things depend on one another. This same awareness can help you understand your place and contribution in your own sphere of influence. It can show you how some things can and some things cannot be controlled.
4. Answers: Sometimes, Seeing The Larger Picture Can Make Dealing With The Small Stuff Easier.
When you allow yourself to see life beyond its immediate impact on your own emotions and future, priorities will be adjusted, and reality is not obscured by mental stress and pain. Physically, a more relaxed mood can help keep your mind sharp and your body able to endure life’s stresses with less illness.
Where to Go
Even if you are not near an accessible forest setting, you can still apply the principles of forest bathing for your benefit. The principles of shinrin-yoku can be used to create your own oasis of meditation wherever nature’s offerings can be found.
If an actual forest is not available, any local park with green areas and a walking path can be used. If possible, step off the path into a quiet, safe place.
You may be able to create your own meditative garden space either in your yard or even indoors on a wide window sill. A comfortable bench or chair can become a refuge that’s always within reach.
Sometimes a simple live flower arrangement can bring great pleasure to the senses. The colors, shapes, and scents can be a welcome distraction and a source of comfort.
Essential oils can also offer a source of relaxation inside your home. A soaking bath with lavender or other mood-enhancing herbs can be just what you need to help soothe away the stresses of the day. Learning about essential oils and healing herbal teas can be a part of an ongoing healthful lifestyle in any season.
We all must find ways to live life with as healthy and positive an outlook as possible. No two people face the same obstacles, but there are some common ways of dealing with life’s stresses.
Outdoor activities such as forest bathing have a proven worth for those willing and able to participate in them.