Forest bathing: What it is and why you should try it
These days, we stay indoors for hours scrolling through social media, binge-watching TV shows, or playing video games. We shop online and have purchases delivered straight to our homes. We live in or commute to cities surrounded by concrete, steel, and smog. Our days are mostly spent away from sunshine, trees, water, and fresh air.
While our modern way of life can be convenient, it’s taking us away from the health benefits of nature. To the point where getting outside should now be a priority. This is where the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku — or forest bathing — can help.
What is forest bathing?
In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries created the term shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere.” The practice encourages people to simply spend time in nature — no actual bathing required. It’s also very low impact, which means you don’t have to go for trail runs or do an intense hike. The goal of forest bathing is to live in the present moment while immersing your senses in the sights and sounds of a natural setting.
Does it work?
There’s a reason why the largest cities in the world have parks, trees, and pockets of nature woven throughout their busy streets. One study by the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending time in an urban park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being.1
Aside from city parks, the more in-depth practice of forest bathing has been found to lower blood pressure, heart rates, and levels of harmful hormones — like cortisol, which your body produces when stressed.2 This can help put you in a more calm and relaxed state.
How to practice forest bathing
While the word “forest” is in the name of this practice, don’t worry — heading out to a heavily wooded area isn’t required. You could take a trip to a local park, your favorite nearby trail, the beach, a lake, or any natural setting. Just be sure to turn off or silence your phone or any other device. The key is to live fully in the moment while bathing your senses in nature.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take a few deep breaths and center yourself. Focus on what your senses are taking in — whether it’s the scent of clean ocean air or a chorus of chirping birds.
Spend a few moments simply observing your surroundings. You could sit and watch how the trees sway in the wind or you could walk around. If you decide to walk, go at a leisurely pace and without a specific destination in mind. It’s important to let your mind and senses wander, explore, and indulge.
Safety tip: Always pay attention to your surroundings, stay on marked trails, and wear appropriate gear (and don’t forget to consider things like sun protection, allergies, and insect repellents). It’s a good idea to also be aware of any potential dangers — like wild animals or uneven ground. When possible, bring a buddy or let someone know where you’re going and for how long.
A good rule of thumb is to practice forest bathing for at least 20 minutes every day. If you don’t have that much time to spare, that’s OK. Any amount of time you can spend outdoors enjoying fresh air and sunshine is good. Plus, the goal of forest bathing is to relax and detach — the practice shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should be an activity you look forward to and enjoy.
You could also tie your forest bathing practice to your journaling routine for added health benefits. After each session, use your journal to keep track of what you experienced or any thoughts you had while immersed in nature. This is a good way to keep track of how the practice is making you feel over time.
Need a few more reasons to write yourself a nature prescription?
Watch this animated short video to see how and why spending time outside can be beneficial to your health and well-being.
1Hon K. Yuen and Gavin R. Jenkins, “Factors associated with changes in subjective well-being immediately after urban park visit,” International Journal of Environmental Health Research, February 13, 2019.
2Bum Jin Park et al., “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan,” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, May 2, 2009.