What Is Forest Bathing?

When you first hear the term forest bathing it probably conjures images of floating in some sort of river or lake surrounded by lush greenery, but surprisingly the practice doesn’t involve any bathing at all. Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, is the latest health trend to hit the United States. Originally developed in Japan, as a way to counteract the modern sedentary, indoor lifestyle, has become increasingly popular in the United States, echoing the yoga and meditation movements adopted from Eastern cultures. Shinrin-Yoku literally translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” and refers to the practice walking meditatively while soaking up all the sights, smells and sounds of the natural world in order to promote psychological and physiological health. It differs from hiking in that it focuses on the therapeutic aspect of being in the environment as opposed to exercising. The practice can be done alone or with a guide.

Why Do It?

The idea that spending time in nature is beneficial to our health is nothing new. Throughout most of human history, people spent most of their lives outdoors, and our bodies adapted to living in the natural world. However, over the last few hundred years, we have developed into an indoor species, only stepping outside to run errands or commute to and from work. A 2001 survey done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that on average, Americans spend 87% of their time indoors. Spending our days trapped in a cubicle, surrounded by all the stimuli of the modern world has led to vast amounts of stress on our bodies and minds with disastrous results to our health. Forest bathing is a way to step back from the craziness of the modern world and simply be in the present moment. It requires you to use all of your senses and encourages you to take long, deep breaths of fresh air and to take time out of your busy life and slow down for a few minutes. That simple act of noticing where we are brings us back to ourselves.

The Benefits of Forest Bathing

While the science behind it is not yet entirely understood, studies have long shown the positive impact that spending time in nature has on our overall health. Benefits include lowered heart rates and blood pressure, lower levels of cortisol—the stress hormone, and an improved immune system. Participants also report increased feelings of mental clarity, creativity, and well-being. People who interact with nature on this level also tend to engage in less negative, self-referential thinking, which has been correlated with depression.

Like yoga or meditation, forest bathing is a practice, so in order to gain the most benefits, it must be done on a regular basis and is best learned from a qualified guide. If you’re interested in experiencing Shinrin-yoku, you can find a qualified guide here.

While forest bathing has been common in Japan for decades, it’s rising popularity in the United States has prompted the U.S. Association of Nature & Forest Therapy to certify over 250 new guides in 2018. This meditative practice is showing no signs of stopping.