There’s a reason we love being in nature. It fills our cup, rejuvenates our spirit, lowers our stress-levels and restores our mood. And now the science backs this up.
Japanese forest bathing – a wellbeing revolution
The term ‘forest bathing’ or ‘shinrin-yoku’ (shinrin meaning ‘forest’ and yoku meaning ‘bath’) was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as a form of healing and preventative healthcare.
A way to address ‘karoshi’ or ‘death by overwork’ in the high-stress Japanese corporate culture, forest bathing encourages connection to nature to reduce stress and boost wellbeing (no actual bathing required)!
Now, widely adopted around the world, this phenomenon is fast becoming a leading mental health intervention.
Mindfully engaging the senses in nature
Essentially, forest bathing involves slowing down, being quiet and calm, and mindfully connecting with nature using all your senses. By being in the present moment, you can appreciate the wonder and beauty of nature, listen to your surroundings, and in turn, listen to yourself.
Contrary to the name, you don’t have to be in a ‘forest’ to reap the benefits, and you don’t have to get wet to ‘bathe’. Any green place including your local park or nature reserve will do the trick, and you stay dry in the process!
The benefits of forest bathing are vast
Research has indicated that forest bathing:
- reduces blood pressure and stress levels
- significantly improves cardiovascular function
- significantly enhances people’s emotional state, mood and attitude, whilst alleviating anxiety and depression
- improves sleep quality
- remarkably improves inflammatory, antioxidant and electrophysiological indexes
- boosts anti-cancer proteins.
With the significant decline in mental health over Covid, and with the constant alure and distraction of our devices, mindful nature experiences are becoming more infrequent. But there is good news. It only takes a short time in nature to slow down, gain perspective and reap the benefits.
Our step-by-step guide to forest bathing
So, are you ready to give forest bathing a go? Here’s how to do it.
- Leave all devices behind including your mobile phone. This allows you to completely immerse yourself in the present without the distraction or pull to check your messages.
- Follow your body and intuition. Move through the forest, park or green space slowly and with intention. You may wish to leisurely walk, taking in all the sights, smells and sounds around you. Or you may wish to sit and be mindful at a specific site. The choice is yours.
- Unlock your five senses. Run your fingers through a cool trickling stream, study the ridges and patterns on the back of a leaf, immerse yourself in the beauty of a flower, place your hands on the trunk of a tree, take deep, slow breaths and fill your lungs with phytoncides, or listen to the trees talking to each other, the birds singing or a bee flying past. Truly connect with the beauty of nature around you and feel yourself becoming calm, relaxed, curious and inward-looking. You may even wish to go barefoot to reconnect with the Earth’s electrical charge.
- To guide your experience, we recommend listening to the Great Minds podcast where you’ll find three short shinrin-yoku meditations.
Alternatively, as you walk through the forest, you may wish to ask yourself these questions:
- What do I notice today that I wouldn’t normally notice on a walk?
- Can I breathe in the scent of the trees?
- How does the forest make me feel? What aspects are awe-inspiring?
- Do I feel a connection with the forest? How? Why?
- What can I take from this experience? What can I savour?
- What is the forest telling me about myself (follow your intuition)?
- The longer you stay in a forest setting, the greater the benefits you reap – so stay as long as you can! A complete forest bathing experience is often said to be around two hours. This may seem like a long time, but you can build-up to this, or take a guided forest bathing experience with a trained professional.
- After your forest bathing experience, consider journaling about your experience and thoughts. What secrets did the forest share with you? What intuition did it unlock about yourself? Regular journaling can be an effective wellbeing strategy which you may like to practice ongoing.
- Safety tip: If you’re outdoors for a considerable time, always wear appropriate clothing, sun protection and consider any allergies you may have. Always pay attention to your surroundings and never stray from marked trails.
To learn more about the benefits of forest bathing, we recommend the book Into the Woods: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li. It’s a wonderful read!
Top 5 reasons to prioritise forest bathing today
- The positive effect of trees on your mental wellbeing lasts longer than short-term boosts to happiness.
- Spending time in nature can boost problem-solving ability and creativity by up to 50 per cent.
- Natural silence has been called one of the most endangered resources on the planet. When you walk in nature, you breathe in a substance called mycobacterium vaccae (found in the soil) that makes you feel happier.
- Looking at natural fractal patterns can reduce your stress by as much as 60 per cent.
- Trees can make you feel richer and younger. Researchers found that having 10 more trees on a city block can make residents feel as good as being given a $10,000 pay rise or being seven years younger.
How to bring the outdoors in
If you can’t regularly go forest bathing, there are ways to gain the benefits of nature in your own home. You can:
- fill your house with plants and greenery
- listen to recordings of the forest online. Simply type ‘forest sounds’ into Google to download a range of free audio tracks
- use forest scented essential oils such as cypress, rosemary, cedar wood, eucalyptus and pine
- adorn your home and office with pictures of forests, green vegetation or the outdoors
- set the screensaver of your computer or phone to a forest or nature image.