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Forest Bathing for Mental and Physical Health

Updated: Feb 21

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"In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks." -John Muir

Picture this: You're walking through a beautiful forest along a creek that flows into a river. You look up to see a large canopy of trees allowing the slightest glisten of the sun to shine through, just enough to capture the glow of the dewy mist on the ferns at your feet. The leaves on these various trees each have their own individual shades of green, from light lime green to dark forest green. You notice that the leaves sway with the rhythm of the breeze. Surrounding you are vibrant wildflowers in shades of yellow, purple and orange. They each have their own unique shapes, sizes, and character, making each one stand out as its own individual flower that shines just as brightly as the others.

Then you take in a deep breath. The air is clean, crisp, and softly kissed with familiar scents, like cedar, pine, rosemary, and honeysuckle. The forest is its own natural aromatherapy that awakens your senses and lifts your spirits as you move through its path.

Next, you take in all of the sounds. You hear the birds singing as if they're singing to one another. The tree frogs let their voices be heard, loud and clear. Even the sounds of locusts sounds peaceful, as if they're a part of the choir. Dried leaves rustle as squirrels chase each other. A mama and her ducks quack in harmony as they paddle down the river.

As you walk with your eyes and ears wide open, you engage your senses even deeper by seeing the energy of the trees, listening more closely to the forest sounds, touching the texture of trees, and allowing the sweet aroma to permeate your entire body. In this moment, you are completely present, aware, and immersed in the forest experience. This is nature and all of the healing elements it can give to you as you allow yourself to surrender and open to it. You feel rejuvenated, peaceful, centered and calm. You allow a sense of gentle curiosity in your belly and excitement through your heart to guide you.

This practice, called forest bathing, is an immersive way to get grounded, centered, and balanced, fully letting go of your constant thoughts, busy schedule, life stressors or anything else that pulls you away from fully experiencing life and YOU.

What is Forest Bathing

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Research shows that time outdoors is key to physical, mental and emotional health, as well as reconnecting to your sense of self. Establishing a deeper connection to yourself leads to attracting more of what you need to thrive. When you're fully aware and connected, you're more fully alive. You also connect more deeply with all things around you — your family, your friends, and your environment.

The term shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, was created in 1982 by Tomohide Akiyama, Director of the Japanese Forestry Agency, to help city dwellers minimize stress by spending time in green spaces and forested areas. Forest bathing involves immersing in forested areas and turning mindful attention to all five senses. In fact, maybe you've experienced something similar in the past while walking through a forest, park, or perhaps even in your own backyard (if you're lucky enough to have plentiful trees, flowers, wildlife and insects!). What's interesting is that shinrin-yoku is moving beyond anecdotal feelings of peace and serenity while enjoying nature. It's a rapidly growing field of research showing the many positive health outcomes that can be gained through immersing in nature, so much so that doctors are starting to prescribe time in nature.

While there is more work to be done to fully understand how exactly shinrin-yoku impacts human health, it certainly does appear to be beneficial for the mind and body. Below is just some of the emerging and exciting research supporting this practice.

Potential Benefits of Forest Bathing

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Support the Immune System

There are antimicrobial compounds emitted by trees called phytoncides. These compounds protect trees and plants and can be protective to you when you're exposed to them. One study found that the phytonicides released by trees can support the immune system, decrease stress hormones and may even increase the number of natural killer cells that can kill cancerous cells. Phytonicides can also enhance your oxygen-absorbing ability while in the forest. These compounds are found in high concentrations in evergreen trees, such as juniper, spruce, cedar, pine, and other conifers. While immersing in nature in general can be beneficial, walking in evergreen forests can expose you to these phytonicide compounds.

Decrease Stress

One study looked at women who lived in an urban environment and participated in a Forest Therapy Program and found that the women felt significantly more “comfortable,” “relaxed,” and “natural" after forest therapy. Overall, these women experienced more positive feelings and less negative feelings. Another study looked at professional healthcare worker burnout and found that the workers were significantly less stressed and improved their mental wellbeing after forest bathing. Several studies showed that forest bathing not only reduces self-reported stress and anxiety levels, but also showed the physiological benefits through reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels, heart rate, and blood pressure. Forest bathing has shown a positive impact on stress in all types of people from the elderly to those who are highly sensitive to those who experience work burnout.

Alleviate Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

A systematic review looking at 36 research articles found that forest bathing significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in over 3500 participants. One study in particular measured changes in nervous system activity and emotions after a two hour forest bathing program in 128 middle-aged and elderly participants. The subjects reported less anxiety, anger, depression and confusion and felt more vigor after the forest bathing session.

Improve Sleep

A Japanese study analyzed whether time spent in the forest could improve sleep patterns. Two hour forest walking sessions were practiced over one weekend day for eight weeks for a total of eight days of forest bathing. Forest bathing practice impacted total sleep time, self-rated depth of sleep, and sleep quality.

Improve Cardiovascular Health

Studies show that forest bathing may improve systolic blood pressure, decrease heart rate and alleviate stress — all of which may affect cardiovascular health. Researchers believe that forest bathing's effect on the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that helps to calm you) is responsible for the physiological effects.

How to Forest Bath

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Here's the cool news: Even if you don't have access to a forest, research shows that you may gain the benefits of forest bathing through simply watching a video. There is really no exact way to forest bath — the experience is essentially yours. There's no set place or time to forest bath. Some research shows that as little as 15 minutes can be beneficial. You can forest bath while walking, sitting, or hiking. You can practice deep breathing, humming, or just noticing your breath. The experience will be unique to you and each of your own experiences may vary. The sights, sounds, and aromas of the forest may change as will your perception, emotional, and mental state each time you experience the forest. What's more, the practice is free! Here's how to do it:

  1. Find a green space, like a local park, forest, or your backyard.

  2. Try to engage all of your senses using sight, listening, smelling, and touching to fully immerse in the experience.

  3. Notice how you're feeling in your heart and what emotions transpire.

  4. Take the positive, calming, and relaxed feeling with you as your move through your day.

  5. Repeat often!

Have you tried forest bathing? Or, perhaps you've experienced it and didn't realize it had a name? Please share your experience below!


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