The practice of forest bathing originated in Japan, where it is called shinrin-yoku. As westerners begin to work their way back to Earth-centered practices and embrace the potential wellness boosting powers of nature, the practice of forest bathing has become increasingly popular, and with good reason. In this article, we will discuss the reported benefits of partaking in the practice and take a look at what some of the studies surrounding it have to say.
Important note: We are not promoting the use of forest bathing as a replacement for obtaining the proper medical or mental health care. Always consult with a professional that you trust before incorporating any new wellness modalities. The information we present here may contain errors, and it is important for you to use your own discernment and conduct thorough research of your own before deciding whether or not the practice is for you. We are not medical professionals and we are not qualified to give medical advice.
So, What is Forest Bathing?
If you’ve ever taken the time to walk around in the woods, with the intention of being fully present and immersed in the experience, you’re already on the right track. Forest Bathing utilizes a variety of mindfulness techniques to help individuals remain fully present while interacting with nature. But, Shinrin-Yoku simply translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere,” and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Some Simple Tips for Getting Started
- Turn off your phone
- Focus on your breathing
- Allow yourself to experience all of the scents and sounds
- Notice how the Earth feels beneath your feet
- Allow your feelings to come to the surface
- Interact with plants (touch the trees, smell the flowers *not the poisonous ones*)
The Supposed Benefits of Forest Bathing
Research conducted throughout China and Japan has many people believing that forest bathing could indeed provide a number of health benefits. This probably does not come as a surprise for those who routinely spend time out in nature.
In Japan, forest bathing is viewed by many as an important part of preventative health care. Studies have shown that it may boost the immune system, reduce the symptoms associated with high levels of stress, and increase energy levels while simultaneously improving the quality of sleep at night time.
In one study, it was found that those who live in “green” spaces and regularly interact with nature report having significantly higher energy levels and greater feelings of wellbeing than those who only get limited time in green spaces.
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The Autonomic Nervous System
Research has found that forest bathing might have a positive effect on the autonomic nervous system. Significant changes in the activity level of the central nervous system were identified in the individuals who partook in Shinrin-Yoku, which likely plays a role in the mood boost people say they get from the experience.
In individuals who made forest bathing a part of their routine, prefrontal cortex activity was significantly lower when compared to those who did not. Peak benefits and effects from forest bathing were noticed between five to seven minutes of being immersed in the wooded area, which shows that it might not take much time at all to see significant positive effects in regards to improving mood and reducing stress.
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In another study, the effects of forest bathing on the endocrine system were measured. The study consisted of 267 males and measured the amount of cortisol found in the saliva of participants both before and after forest bathing. In doing so, a direct correlation between spending time in the forest and decreased indicators of mental and physiological stress was discovered.
You can read more about it over at this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580555/
The Positive Effects of Nature on Health Can’t be Denied
Studies have shown that even videos that contain nature footage can have a positive effect on mood. This shows that the need for time spent outside, around plants and immersed in nature could be very deeply ingrained.
This is why it might be important to increase green spaces in urban environments and to make plants more accessible to those who rely on public transportation and don’t have the means to get to the nearest forest or patch of woods.
As these studies about the potential benefits of spending time in green spaces continue to gain traction, modern-day healthcare practitioners will likely have a difficult time ignoring the benefits that forest bathing and other nature-based therapies have to offer.