I’m a city guy. I thrive off of Manhattan’s unrelenting energy. But at the same time, I get strong urges to escape the city. And every time, I return feeling happier, more energetic, and overall better.
Cities slowly drain humans of energy and life force. The more technology pervades and secludes us from nature, the more our well being suffers. It gradually dwindles over time. Nature recharges our health, wellness, and vitality.
In ways science is constantly uncovering, time in nature upgrades, resynchronizes, and heals humans.
Today I’ll highlight my favorite benefits of forest bathing, how it increases your overall quality of life, and the step-by-step process to try it yourself.
Forest Bathing is a Neglected Link of Good Health
Forest bathing, translated from the Japanese phrase shinrin yoku, is a form of nature therapy intended to improve physical, mental, and spiritual health. This ecotherapy is practiced by intentionally relaxing in nature without technology, distractions, exercise, or external stimuli. Japanese doctors began prescribing the therapy in the early 1980s.
One such doctor is Qing Li, who’s book on the subject reflects his 25 years of forest bathing research.
“This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”― Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness
Enjoying a practice from our biological past has full-body healing effects.
An Ancient Therapy Backed By Science
I didn’t expect to find much research on shinrin yoku. With little profit potential, who would fund it?
I dug up 124 studies on the phrase “forest bathing” alone.
I believe that some of the mechanisms behind forest bathing include:
- Scents. Plant’s natural oils (phytoncides) protect the tree against attackers. They also convey beneficial biological information to humans through inhalation of microRNA.
- Visuals. Nature, and especially plants, is full of symmetry. These patterns are neurologically relaxing, soothing, and promote happiness.
- Sounds. Typical city noise (traffic) is known to increase stress. Conversely, wildlife sounds reduce the fight-or-flight stress response and rewire the brain for wellbeing.
As one article points out, spending time in nature comes with dozens of physical and mental health benefits.
Some notable benefits of forest bathing include:
- Reduces daily stress levels
- Quicker recovery from stress
- Enhances immune system function
- Induces relaxation
- Improves gut diversity
- Better ability to concentrate
- Reduces mental fatigue
- Improves complex working memory
- Remarkably improves cardiovascular system
- Heals the neuroendocrine system and the metabolism
- Improves mood, emotional state, and attitude, while reducing anxiety and depression
- Speeds up physical and psychological recovery (even in surgical patients viewing nature through a window)
- Increases heart rate variability (HRV)
- Normalizes cortisol; the higher the stress, the more effective
- Can improve discipline
- Radically improves mental health conditions
- Alleviates ADHD symptoms
- Greater energy, vitalizing and invigorating
- Less rumination
- Improves parent-child relationships
- Inhaling tree terpenes may be a therapeutic disease treatment
- Decreases blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (in diabetics)
- Reduces cravings
- Improves the function of all five senses (touch, sound, smell, sight, hearing)
To summarize: forest bathing makes you feel, look, and perform better.
So how do you practice shinrin yoku?
Centers around the world lead immersive trainings. While a nice idea, I want a more practical, easily accessible option for those landlocked in concrete jungles.
How to Forest Bathe: Step by Step Guide to Healing in Nature
On the occasional trip, anyone can relish the beach, mountains, forest, and nature. In daily life, for those of us in cities two big factors make forest bathing impractical:
- Lack of forest
Both valid concerns, and I’ll address each.
As Dr. Qing Li explains, city dwellers can enjoy nature’s revitalizing properties (emphasis mine):
“You don’t need a forest; any small green space will do. Leave your cup of coffee and your phone behind and just walk slowly. You don’t need to exercise, you just need to open your senses to nature. It will improve your mood, reduce tension and anxiety, and help you focus and concentrate for the rest of the day.”― Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness
If Dr. Li’s shinrin yoku instructions weren’t enough, here are the steps to biohack, optimize, and get the most out of forest bathing.
Find a nearby space where you can immerse yourself among the plants, grass, trees, and wildlife.
Limit all distractions
Put your phone on airplane mode. Turn off any music.
Optional: ground yourself
By removing your shoes and contacting the bare ground you allow Earth’s naturally negative ions to quell free radicals and rebalance your electrical charge (as can be seen with a voltmeter).
Avoid jogging, running, or using the time as exercise.
Activate your senses
Pay attention to each of your senses. Smell, sound, sight, taste, touch. Pay attention to the strongest and faintest sensations.
Relax your breathing
Your breathing rate will likely decrease when forest bathing.
Notice but don’t dwell on any individual thoughts. Temporarily release any of the day’s TODO lists.
Forest bathing isn’t a full-day commitment. A short period will do. In fact, just two hours per week of this intentional nature time is enough.
Forest Bathing Questions & Answers
What does forest bathing mean?
Forest bathing is the practice of intentionally reconnecting with nature by visiting a green space (however small), limiting distractions, and focusing on each of your five senses. Forest bathing got its name because it’s like a cleansing bath for your senses and overall wellness.
Who invented forest bathing?
Shinrin-yoku (Japanese for forest bathing), is a form of ecotherapy first documented by Cyrus the Great in Persia 2500 years ago. The Japanese popularized and began prescribing forest bathing specifically in the 1980s.
How does forest bathing help with stress?
Forest bathing helps with stress through multiple mechanisms. Natural visual symmetry and patterns, called fractals, reduce stress hormone levels. Scents in the air contain stress-lowering compounds. Soothing sounds also help the brain relax. Finally, forest bathing removes stress-inducing technology.
Forest Bathing is Nature’s Xanax
The more we diverge from nature, the more important forest bathing becomes.
Until recently, humans didn’t need to label and prioritize unity with the outdoors. They had no alternative.
It’s so potent that even simulated nature exposure reliably increases subjects’ wellbeing.
Spending as little as 2 hours mindfully taking in nature without distraction is enough to reduce stress, rewire the brain, increase mood, accelerate recovery, and improve overall health.
Time spent forest bathing pays in multiples as you return to your day happy, energetic, focused, and productive.
- Forest Bathing Institute: https://tfb.institute/scientific-research/
- Book: Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness
What’s holding you back?