Taking a shower in the forest sounds pretty fantastic, but that’s not what we’re discussing today.
Most of us are well aware of the benefits of spending time in nature. Without reading the scientific reasons or hearing it from our doctors, we acknowledge how being outdoors makes us feel: relaxed, centered, and stress-free. Afterward, we can go back to our suburban homes or city life with our creative batteries refueled and our minds cleared.
In Japan, this time spent outdoors is known as shinrin-yoku. “Shinrin” means forest, and “yoku” translates to bath. Translated, this practice is known as forest bathing, or, put more simply, taking in the forest atmosphere. And it is a perfect way to leave your worries behind and recharge your mind, body, and spirit.
What Is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing is simply spending time outdoors in a meaningful, purposeful manner. This isn’t the time to exercise. Forest bathing isn’t about hiking, jogging, or trail running. Physical exertion isn’t a part of forest bathing.
So, if you can’t exercise, what do you do when you are forest bathing?
You slow down and let your senses take over and guide you. You practice mindfulness. And you forget about the stress-filled world you left behind.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
If you’ve ever spent time outside, even if it was at a beach or in a garden instead of a forest, then you probably remember how good you felt afterward. But besides that general feeling of calm, there are proven emotional and physical benefits to forest bathing.
Reduce Your Stress
Studies show that even a 40-minute walk in the forest can reduce the body’s level of cortisol. Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” for what it does to your body: increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.
Lowering your cortisol levels will also:
- Reduce the risk of anxiety and depression
- Lower your heart rate, helping prevent heart disease
- Lower your blood pressure
- Help you avoid headaches
- Produce better sleep
Boost Your Immune System
This gets rather scientific, so bear with us. Some of the trees commonly found in forests – especially evergreens – secrete a substance known as phytoncides. This acts as their natural defense against bacteria, insects, and fungi.
Studies have shown the benefits of exposure to this natural chemical to the human body, correlating the amount of phytoncide in the air to improvements in the functions of the immune system.
Elevate Your Natural Killer Cells
Your body produces antiviral natural killer cells on its own. But, these beneficial natural killer cells are suppressed by the stress hormone. So, the lowered cortisol levels in your body from forest bathing result in a higher level of natural killer cells.
These natural killer cells are an essential part of your immune system, fighting off illness and diseases, including cancer.
Increase Your Creativity
Time spent in nature also boosts your mental performance and creativity. Participants who spent time hiking in nature performed up to 50% better on tasks that required creative problem-solving.
And anecdotally, artists throughout history have found their inspiration in nature. Painters, writers, photographers, and countless others all use Mother Nature as their muse.
Tips for Successful Forest Bathing
There are no set rules when it comes to forest bathing. But, there are some ways that you can make it enjoyable and beneficial.
- Pick a quiet spot. You can practice forest bathing regardless of where you live. Even if you don’t live near a forest, you can find a green, tree-filled space. But choose carefully – a crowded park full of kids will not leave you feeling relaxed!
- Don’t bring your devices. Yes, you want to take pictures. But this is forest bathing, not photography. Leave your phone and camera at home. You can always return with them another day.
- Wander aimlessly. Don’t have a set itinerary or timeline. Let your senses lead the way. Do you hear a babbling brook that you want to explore? Head over in that direction.
- Spend as much time as you can. Pick a day when you don’t have many commitments, so you can wander slowly and enjoy your time without a watch telling you it’s time to go home. It would be best if you spent at least 20 minutes forest bathing to feel the positive effects, but the longer you stay, the better you will feel.
- Indulge your senses. What do you see, hear, smell? Let your intuition take over as you give over all of your concentration to your surroundings. When you start focusing on your senses instead of your thoughts, you will find yourself practicing an elevated level of mindfulness.
When done consistently, forest bathing can play a vital role in your emotional well-being. And practicing it in conjunction with other relaxation and mindfulness techniques, such as journaling or meditation, will enhance its effects.