What is Forest Bathing?
Nature can have a powerful therapeutic effect on us. The concept of Forest Bathing comes from the Japanese concept called shinrin-yoku. Relaxing in a forest atmosphere and taking in the benefits of the natural forest is what shinrin-yoku is all about.
Forest bathing is much more than taking a stroll through the forest or park. It is a calm, meditative, stress reducing practice. This activity creates a sense of peace and calm in our body and mind that differs from regular exercise. It helps us focus on and take in the beauty of nature. I look at it as creating a therapeutic or healing relationship with nature.
Forest bathing is a meditative and mindful practice. It’s a time to relax and reflect on all that is around us. We can use our five senses to increase focus and relaxation. Being mindful of what we see, hear, smell, touch, and even taste is part of the experience. And all of this helps to boost our well-being and improves our immune system.
Through Forest Bathing, we can build self-trust by going at our own pace and allowing our body and mind to take it all in. But to get the benefits of this practice, we need to make a commitment to ourselves to do it regularly. It is not “one and done”, but an ongoing practice.
What are the benefits of Forest Bathing:
The Department of Environmental Conservation in New York state lists these benefits of Forest Bathing and exposure to forests and trees:
Boosts the immune system.
Lowers blood pressure.
Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD.
Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness.
Increases energy level.
Research from Japan and Korea is showing the health effects of this therapy. Nature bathing may:
Focus your mind.
Give you more energy.
Lower your stress and anxiety levels.
Boost your immune system and help you recover from an illness faster.
Improve your mood; some study participants reported that their feelings of depression got better after forest bathing.
Increase the number of “natural killer” cells in your body, which can find and get rid of some types of cancer cells and bacterial and viral infections.
Part of forest bathing is the interaction with trees. One thing that is special about trees is they have an oil called phytoncide. This essential oil protects plants and trees from insects and germs. Their antimicrobial properties may influence immunity.
A study by the National Institutes of Health: National Library of Medicine says this about the benefits of forest bathing:
These findings indicate that forest bathing trips increase NK (natural killer cells, which can help reduce some cancer cells and infections) activity, which was mediated by increases in the number of NK cells and the levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins. Phytoncides released from trees and the decreased production of stress hormones may partially contribute to the increased NK activity. Effects of Tree Bathing on Human Immunes System
More Benefits of Forest Bathing:
Increases mindfulness: When we leave our phones and other cares of the world behind and focus on the nature world around us, we can be more mindful. Mindfulness, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a “mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”. This also helps us to reduce worry, obsessive thoughts and ruminations, the looping thoughts in our brain.
Forest bathing involves meditation through mindfulness. Mindful activities help us focus on the present moment and this helps to suspend judgement, as well as heighten our sense of the “here and now”. Forest Bathing can help us create a meditative state as we connect with the surrounding nature.
Reduces stress: When we slow down and focus on the present moment in a meditative state, stress is reduced naturally. Research is proving the stress reducing effect of Forest Bathing to be true. Mindfully walking through a forest is shown to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. Research has further shown that forest bathing lowers stress hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline.
How to practice Forest Bathing
Here are some steps to take when you venture into a forest bathing experience:
Leave your technology at home or in the car. Your phone or camera might distract you.
Focus all your attention on the present moment.
Remember, this is a process and not a product. There are no specific goals for the walk.
Trust your body and allow yourself to go wherever you feel led.
Podcasts or music can be beneficial to listen to when you go for a regular walk, but this experience is different. We can listen to the “music” of nature. And we can learn lessons from the forest experience while connecting with nature.
As you are slowly walking, remember to use your five senses. Think about what you hear, smell, feel, and see. What do the rocks and tree bark feel like? Take slow, deep breaths. Sit down and immerse yourself in nature.
It is most beneficial to engage in forest bathing 120 minutes a week according to research done in England. This time can be broken up into small segments. But regardless of the time spent in nature, the important thing is to do it consistently. Make it a regular part of your day, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.
Questions to Guide You While Forest Bathing:
What do you see?
Are there different kinds of trees here?
Do you hear birds nearby singing?
Can you hear the crunch of the leaves and twigs on the ground as you walk?
Can you hear the silence?
Did an animal scurry somewhere nearby?
Do you feel the rustling wind?
Do you feel your body as you walk?
Can you breathe in the scent of the trees?
Can you inhale and exhale deeply?
Do you notice the sky above you and its shade of blue?
Can you feel your connection to the forest?
Can you reach out and feel the softness of the leaves or the sharpness of the pine needles?
Do you sense peacefulness?
Can you savor the time you have here?
Forest bathing is another tool in our “emotional medicine” toolkit. These are the things we can do to improve our overall emotional and physical wellbeing. Forest Bathing is an activity that helps combat the trauma responses of fight, flight, freeze and fawn. It is a calming, meditative and stress reducing activity. Journaling, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, creative expression, and gratitude are other types of “emotional medicine”. If you would like help and resources in overcoming trauma and the negative impact it has, while also building up your resilience and self-value, please contact me at: https://www.katherinebwiens.com/