In our evolutionary history we have been deeply connected with nature but this bond started to crumble with the start of the industrial revolution. People started to move away from nature and into the cities losing touch with what was once well-known to us.
In recent years, however, our wish to reconnect with nature is growing. We’re tired of the constant stimulation of modern life and seek opportunities to disconnect from technology and the stresses of daily life. There is also a growing concern for the environment which makes us seek new ways to connect with nature.
Nature provides a much-needed break and practices such as forest bathing are gaining increased popularity.
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku (森林浴) in Japanese, means immersing oneself in a forest to improve one’s physical and mental health.
The concept was first introduced in Japan in the 1980s when the government began promoting forest bathing as a way to combat the high levels of stress and anxiety among urban dwellers. Forest bathing has also gained popularity in other countries, such as South Korea, where it is known as Sanlimyok. In Europe, the practice is known as Waldtherapie, which translates to “forest therapy.”
So how does forest bathing work?
When you take a forest bath, you’re taking a slow mindful walk through a forest, listening to the sounds of nature and breathing in the fresh air of the forest. The idea is that you try to engage all five senses and connect with the natural world.
There has been an increase in research on the health benefits of forest bathing so let’s take a closer look.
Forest bathing and thus spending time in nature and immersing oneself in the forest environment have shown numerous benefits to our physical and mental health.
Here are 10 benefits of forest bathing:
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A study conducted in Japan found that forest therapy decreased cortisol levels by 12.4%.
Forest bathing has been shown to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. A study conducted in Finland found that participants who engaged in forest therapy had lower levels of perceived stress and salivary cortisol (a stress hormone) but higher levels of feelings of happiness.
Studies have found that breathing fresh forest air can increase our immune system by preventing illness and promoting recovery. Forests are rich in phytoncides, which are volatile organic compounds produced by plants. Phytoncides have been shown to have antimicrobial effects and can also stimulate the production of natural killer cells, which play an important role in the immune response.
A walk in the forest can also lower your blood pressure as well as slow down your heart rate making you feel more relaxed. This is especially true for hypertensive people.
Being in the forest or walking through a park has been found to improve cognitive function, including attention, working memory, and executive function. This is likely due to the combination of reduced stress and increased exposure to natural stimuli, such as trees, plants, and wildlife.
It restores your energy levels. Studies have found that just a two-hour forest walk can make you feel more energetic and reduce feelings of fatigue. The exposure to natural stimuli has a restorative effect on both the mind and the body.
The exposure to nature helps to regulate your circadian rhythm as the production of melatonin is increased. Since your stress levels are increased, forest bathing can improve your ability to fall asleep as well as improve the quality and the duration of your sleep.
An American study showed that a four day hiking trip in nature increased the performance on a creative problem-solving task by 50%! This is most likely due to the stimuli of the natural environment and the decrease in exposure to technology
It may increase mindfulness because it encourages you to be present and pay attention on what you see, hear and smell. Those sensory stimuli can help you to increase your focus on the present.
Researches found that spending time in nature improved attention and reduced symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity reducing the symptoms of ADHD in children and improving the cognitive function.
Due to all the reasons above we can say that forest bathing is a great way to take care of your mental and physical health to improve your overall well-being.
Here is an easy guide on how forest bathing works:
Find a forest, park, or other natural environment that you can access easily. The location should be as natural as possible, with trees, plants, and other living things and with no traffic noise or lots of people.
Your goal is to disconnect from all your devices so to be able to fully immerse yourself into the nature, so put away your phone and tablet and any other electronic device.
Slow down and start to observe your surroundings. Observe the trees, plants and all the wildlife around you. Focus on your environment and try to be as present as possible.
Try to use all your senses while you walk through the forest. Touch the bark of a tree, breath in the fresh air, smell the leaves of trees and listen to the sounds of the birds and the rustling leaves. Try to find some edible berries and enjoy their taste!
It’s all about taking your time and moving slow. Use your intuition to decide where to go and what to explore. Listen to your breath and to the sounds you’re making while you walk.
Find a spot to sit down and meditate while you listen to the sounds of the forest.
Stop frequently and take a moment to gaze at the surroundings, what’s in front, where you came from and what is left or right of you as well as above and beneath. Take bigger breaks to just sit down and relax.
As your forest bath experience comes to an end, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve experienced and how you’re feeling.
You do not need to be in a national park or a huge forest to start your very own forest bathing experience. Of course, such environments are ideal but if they are not easily accessible to you, you can also start with your local city park.