Nature’s Reset: The Benefits of Forest Bathing

The term “forest bathing” is translated from the Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku. This mindfulness practice aims to connect us back to our natural habitat – a now unfamiliar setting for many Americans, who, according to a recent study, spend 93% of their time indoors. While getting outside is always a good idea, chances are when you do, it’s spent pounding the pavement of your local community surrounded by cars, houses, buildings, and countless manufactured stimuli.

No Forest, No Problem

Yes, it’s called forest bathing, but no, you don’t need a forest. Finding any natural place – a nearby park, a walking trail, a lake, or a mountain will do just fine. You can search for parks and nature trails on sites like AllTrails or even local stores like LLBean or REI, which often have outdoor adventure programs, and are great for discovering new places to forest bathe. The critical element to this practice are trees – as we’ll further explain, trees emit natural oils called Phytoncides – they’re part of a tree’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. They seem also to benefit our human immune systems similarly.

Trees > Tech

The only “rule” with this practice is the technology stays at home…or at least is on silent mode and tucked away in a pack where you won’t be tempted to look for it. The benefits of forest bathing are all anchored in present-moment awareness and the use of the senses to connect with the environment – that can’t be achieved if you’re using your phone or listening to a podcast.

Wander into Wonder

The idea is that you will wander, walk, or simply sit in nature. You don’t have a destination or finish line. As you settle in, begin scanning your five senses and using them to tune in with your environment.

  1. See: take off your sunglasses and let your eyes take in everything around you. What colors do you notice? What textures and patterns are around you? Allowing natural light to reach our eyes also helps us to regulate its circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that signals when to be alert and when to rest.
  2. Smell: what do you notice about the smells around you? There is something called phytoncides our nose might pick up – these are the essential oils from trees, which science says have antimicrobial properties that may influence immunity.
  3. Hear: notice the sounds of your feet connecting with the earth below them. How does the breeze impact the sounds around you? What animals do you hear?
  4. Touch: if you can remove your shoes, place your bare feet on the earth to reconnect you to its frequency electrically. This is a practice with countless benefits to regulating the nervous system. You can also lean against a tree, run your fingers through a stream, or comb the sand with your hands.
  5. Taste: how does the air feel as it enters your nose and travels down your throat to your lungs? You can also enjoy a cup of tea or snack in nature and see how your present-moment awareness enhances your taste.

The Science

While the practice of forest bathing is simple, the science is complex. This practice has positively affected sleep, energy levels, immune function, and cardiovascular and metabolic health. Quing Li, a researcher from Japan, tells Goop, “Studies have found that forest bathing has a bounty of health benefits. It can strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems, lift your energy and mood, and even help you sleep more, lose weight, and live longer.” A common thread in the science is that forest bathing seems to lower levels of stress hormones—cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, which are known to impact our health and quality of life negatively.

Forest bathing is one of the lowest effort, highest reward ways to improve our mental and physical health. Experiment with what works for you and your lifestyle – maybe that looks like a short daily walk, or perhaps it’s a 3-day getaway to the woods. There’s no wrong way to do it; you’ll likely see the benefits as long as you’re anchoring your senses to your setting and connecting with nature.

About the Author

Brooks Betts
Brooks Betts is a Connecticut-based lifestyle writer and mom to three children. Brooks spent 10 plus years creating content at leading magazine brands, including Real Simple, Food & Wine, and Travel and Leisure, as well as for women’s lifestyle brands Jane Iredale, PAIGE Denim, and Moroccanoil. Brooks writes for companies and personalities across various topics, including wellness, spirituality, beauty, and skincare. Brooks is also a certified Reiki practitioner, breathwork and meditation guide, and energy work enthusiast. When she’s not working, you can likely find Brooks enjoying the beach, meditating, playing tennis, or daydreaming at her favorite coffee shop.

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