One of the hottest trends in fitness right now is a Japanese practice known as Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Touting benefits such as stress relief, reducing blood pressure and much more, it's not hard to understand why so many people are heading to the nearest forest to give Shinrin-yoku a try.
What is Forest Bathing?
Although the name evokes images of relaxing in a hot spring, forest bathing actually has nothing to do with water. Rather, it refers to a special kind of forestry walk intended to reduce stress and encourage mindfulness.
The term forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku was officially coined in 1982 by Japan's Forest Agency. It was actually inspired by ancient Buddhist practices, but evolved over time to the practice we see today. And Japan was so confident in the benefits of forest bathing that they've invested over $10 million researching it over the past decade.
Unlike a nature walk, which usually serves an informational purpose, or a hike, which is about reaching a specific destination, forest bathing is about fully immersing yourself in the forest and taking your time to absorb the sights, sounds, and smells surrounding you.
This practice has proven to be such a successful form of stress-relief that it's actually covered by insurance in Japan.
Forest Bathing in the U.S. And Around the World
While it forest bathing originated in Japan, the trend is starting to catch on elsewhere in the world, growing particularly popular within the United States. It's proving itself to be a formidable competitor with yoga for the title of ultimate relaxation activity.
In fact, resorts, spas and nature parks throughout the U.S. have even started to offer forest bathing walks as a service. It has even become a profession, with forest and nature therapy certifications available in multiple countries.
10 Benefits of Forest Bathing
Still not convinced? Here are 10 reasons why Shinrin-yoku is the key to lasting stress-relief in your life:
1. It Can Improve Your Physical Health
Numerous studies have been conducted about the efficacy of Japanese forest therapy at reducing stress levels. Time after time, the results have conclusively shown that forestry walks have numerous health benefits and immune system-boosting properties.
One 2010 study showed that regular forest bathing was correlated with decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, as well as an increase in white blood cells (the cells in our bodies responsible for fighting infection).
This means that in addition to helping improve feelings of mental and emotional well-being, Japanese forest bathing can also help strengthen your physical health by lowering your risk of infection and diseases associated with high blood pressure and cortisol.
2. It Can Improve Your Concentration
One of the biggest benefits of nature is that it forces us to unplug—literally—and simply be present with our own thoughts.
Participants in forest baths are encouraged to leave their electronic devices turned off for the duration of the experience. That means no checking Facebook or Instagram, and it also means no constant, low-grade interruptions in our own stream of consciousness.
In today's tech-heavy world, most of us are forced to multitask while working and sometimes even when we're at home. We are constantly assailed by the sights and sounds of media, and these omnipresent distractions can make it feel impossible to complete a thought.
Shinrin-yoku remove these distractions from our surroundings and allow us to pay undivided attention to the environment we're in.
3. It Reminds Us of the Bigger Picture
Much has been said about how technology has widened the rifts between ourselves and the world we live in. It's easier than ever to isolate ourselves from other people and to feel profoundly disconnected, even though we can stay in touch easier than ever before.
Immersing ourselves in nature with forest bathing is a wonderful way of reminding ourselves that the stuff of our day-to-day lives is only part of the overall picture of living. And that the world we see on the screens of our handheld devices is only one tiny component of a much bigger whole.
Redirecting our attention away from our screens and onto the sights and sounds of nature is a simple, powerful way to remind ourselves that all living things belong to the same earthly family. And that even when we're by ourselves none of us are ever truly alone.
4. It Lets Us Slow Down and Simply Be
Think about a typical day in your life. From the time your feet hit the floor first thing in the morning until the time you climb back into bed at night, you are probably preoccupied with a seemingly never-ending to-do list.
Most of us have a list of tasks we feel we must accomplish on any given day, and often that list only gets longer as the day wears on. It's difficult to shut down the running internal monologue telling us we need to pay the electricity bill, pick up groceries, drop the kids off at swim practice, pick up the dry-cleaning, and so on.
It's even harder to feel a sense of contentment when all we can think about is what we still have to do before we can relax.
In contrast, a forest bathing puts all those obligations out of sight and out of mind for a few hours, allowing you to recover from that chronic sense of urgency and just be present.
5. It's an Activity Suitable for All Ages
One of the best perks of Shinrin-Yoku is that it's an activity your whole family can do together. Not only is it an opportunity to decompress from the stresses of everyday life, it's an opportunity to bond with your partner and children.
In addition to setting an example for your kids that it's important to prioritize self-care, you'll also be exposing them to aspects of nature they may not have the opportunity to explore otherwise, including local wildlife and greenery.
6. It's More Affordable Than Many Other Forms of Relaxation
Consider some of the most popular forms of self-care: meditation classes and retreats, yoga and pilates, massage therapy, float tanks, and the list goes on.
The main thing most of these activities have in common is money. And more often than not, they can be surprisingly costly.
Forest bathing, however, doesn't require any down payments, and you don't need to purchase any special equipment to participate.
As long as you live in an area with nature trails open to the public, your only investment is in a sturdy pair of shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, and snacks for your time outside. And most of these items are probably things you already have at home.
7. You Will Never Visit the Same Forest Twice
You may follow the same hiking trail countless times, but each time will be a brand new experience full of sights and sounds you haven't encountered before.
No forest will be exactly the same twice in a row, and that means each forest bath you take will be brand new. The novelty means you'll be likelier to pay close attention, and that means you stand a greater chance of reaping the many benefits of nature.
8. You Don't Have to Be a Fitness Model to Participate
Hiking is a popular activity, but unless you're hitting the gym regularly, it can also be a physically taxing one. The experience isn't as much fun if you're huffing and puffing to catch your breath as you scale a steep hillside. Or if you're struggling to keep pace with the rest of your group.
Fortunately, these concerns aren't even on the table when you're forest bathing. In this activity, slow and steady wins the race.
The objective isn't to reach an end point as fast as possible, or to tackle the most challenging trail available. It's to take it easy, noticing the little things along the way, and giving yourself enough time to fully experience every twist and turn of the trail. Plus, walking slowly and taking the time to breathe in the fresh air also helps improve your immune system thanks to the phytoncide.
9. It Will Help You Become Fitter
If you do it regularly enough, forest therapy will help you become a fitter person. Walking is a fantastic way of burning calories, oxygenating your blood, and keeping your joints mobile.
Not only are you doing wonders for your emotional and mental health when you indulge in Japanese forest therapy, you're also doing routine maintenance on your body.
Shinrin-yoku is particularly beneficial for those with sedentary office jobs, as it demands using parts of your body not usually engaged during your workday. If spending five days a week at the gym isn't your style, you can still do something positive for your body by getting outside and taking a leisurely stroll through the forest.
10. It Will Help Improve Your Mood
When you're overwhelmed by stress, it can be easy to feel short-tempered and even to be snappish with our loved ones.
This only leads to further conflict and additional stress, and the vicious cycle continues.
But forest bathing offers us a much-needed opportunity to de-stress and gives us cause to be more thoughtful in our words and actions. This way, we can avoid escalating crises and causing ourselves more undue stress.
Plus, the sense of calm that comes with an afternoon spent in the forest will allow you to handle problems graciously, both professionally and at home with your family.
And while it's important to be kind and compassionate to our colleagues, friends, and family, it's equally important to extend the same treatment to ourselves. Japanese forest bathing helps us to feel more grounded and connected and makes that task a little easier.
Forest Bathing Locations
Want to give Shinrin-yoku a try, but not sure how to start? Here are a forest bathing programs around the country you can check out.
Have you ever taken a forest bath? If so, tell us about it in the comments!