Should You Try Forest Bathing?
Before you channel your inner wood nymph and frolic in a rain shower, take a moment to consider the true meaning of “forest bathing,” which refers to basking among the natural wonders of a forest. (Though I’m thinking there’s probably some therapeutic benefit to actually skinny-dipping in the forest.)
I’ve lived in a densely populated urban area for about seven years now, and while nature trails and dog parks are easy to come by, I struggle to unplug from my tech devices and truly find the secluded-in-nature feeling medical professionals associate with psychological and physical health benefits. So what is a 20-something over-stimulated urbanite to do?
I’m hardly alone in the dilemma. In 2008, for the first time most of the world’s population became urban – more than half of the planet’s residents now live in cities. And projections show that this migration is rapidly accelerating.
“By 2050, the overall urban population will increase to 72 percent.”
Don’t believe it? Check out this interactive infographic from UNICEF.org shows global urban population growth as each year approaches.
(click to open experience in another window)
As cities become bigger and more populated, there will be a greater need to stay connected with nature. This trend isn’t a new concern; in fact, in 1982 the Japanese government launched an initiative coined shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to “forest bathing,” to encourage urbanites to immerse themselves in nature. Who better to turn to for lessons in urban/nature balance than Japan? Nearly all of the country’s population resides in cities, but about 64 percent of the country remains occupied by forest.
For nearly 30 years the Japanese Forestry agency’s shinrin-yoku campaign was based on a cultural understanding that spending time in the ancient forests of Japan was good for the body and soul. In 1990 a film crew documented a small study that focused on Japan’s pristine Yakushima forest, which is home to trees more than 1,000 years old. The research concluded that walking through the cedar forest for 40 minutes was associated with improved mood and energy, as well as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared with those who walked in a laboratory setting.
But what’s so wrong with city dwelling? What about those of us who are perfectly content enjoying Mother Nature from afar?
While urban dwellers tend to live longer due to active lifestyles and easier access to medical care, more studies continue to emerge linking city living to health problems related to high stress and pollution levels, including respiratory illness, anxiety, depression, hypertension, and high blood pressure.
Your Brain on Nature….
By contrast, spending time in nature can offset much of the damage by activating the parasympathetic nervous system – the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. Forest bathing allows us the opportunity to unplug from our usual responsibilities and experience the natural wonders of the world, inducing a sense of calm much like mindfulness meditation.
Like mindfulness, forest bathing helps combat stress and anxiety by slowing production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Additionally, many trees have aromatherapy benefits as they release phytoncides, which stimulate the senses. And of course, trees produce lots of oxygen, which works wonders for our physical and mental health.
The art of forest bathing
Hopefully by now you are itching to swap brunch at your favorite café for a picnic in the park. But before you do, here is the five-point plan for successful forest bathing. The key is to engage all five senses and really focus all of your attention on them.
See: Take in all the colors, textures, shapes, and living elements of the forest. Do you see plants, animals, and insects? The forest is home to so much life. Let the grandeur put your life into perspective–many of the trees around you may have been around much longer than you.
Feel: How does the wind feel in your hair? Is the ground spongy or hard beneath your feet? Are there leaves falling around you?
Hear: Are birds singing? Do you hear flowing water or the crunch of leaves? Nature’s soundtrack is far more original and inspiring than Spotify at the office.
Smell: Take a deep breath. Do you sense of pine or wildflowers? Natural essences are better for the lungs than artificial candle scents and other scented products.
Taste: There is nothing yummier than raspberries right off the bush. Just be sure you are careful about this and only consume actual raspberries.
For more on healing your body and soul with nature, visit:
Amanda is a former editor for HealthCentral.