Over the last year or so I have been hearing more and more about forest bathing therapy. At first, I thought it would involve nudity and pine scented soap. Or sitting your naked backside on twig and leaf covered ground while confessing your deepest secrets to other naked therapy goers. I did NOT expect it to be quite as simple as it really is. Who knew that sitting quietly on a rock in the forest and listening to birds chirp was some newfangled way of healing yourself emotionally and physically!
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What is Forest Bathing Therapy?
So, what exactly is forest bathing therapy? Simply put… forest bathing is being mindful in nature. The actual definition in Wikipedia says that:
“Forest bathing is the practice of taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest for health benefits. The practice originated in Japan where it is called shinrin-yoku.”
Forest bathing is simply the act of going into the forest, sitting down, and using all of your senses to absorb the very essence of the forest into your body and soul.
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Forest Bathing versus Hiking
My husband and I are avid hikers. In fact, I can honestly say that a long hike through the forest is one of my favorite ways to get exercise, despite my battles with knee pain while hiking. However, hiking doesn’t really give you the same perspective of nature that forest bathing does. Forest bathing requires that you sit quietly so that you can listen and observe. You want to smell the decomposing leaves. Open your ears and hear the birds chirping. Sit quietly and feel the light breeze on your hair or the warmth of the sun on your skin. These are simple sensations that you may miss if you are climbing a mountain and struggling to breathe! And hiking in Georgia means conquering some serious hills!
I will say, however, that most hikers have been participating in forest bathing therapy way longer than the concept has actually been named in science journals and media sites.
All of my strenuous hikes have involved sitting on a rocky overhang and absorbing every sight, sound, and smell from the area I just worked my ass off to get to! After several miles of hard trails, I am darn well going to sit my butt down and appreciate the beauty of the world around me! Who knew that the simple act of appreciating nature would be given the term forest bathing therapy by people who had probably never tried on a pair of sturdy hiking boots.
The Science of Forest Bathing Therapy
As a science geek, I decided I wanted to know more about the actual mechanisms behind forest bathing. I did a bit of research to learn more. Here are a few key facts about forest bathing you may be interested in learning:
- Studies suggest that when you’re in nature, the trees and plants emit oils called phytoncides that enhance the immune system.
- Levels of the stress hormone cortisol decrease after a walk in the forest. Walks in other settings do not show reductions as low as forest walks do. Stress hormones play a part in everything from headaches to cancer so reducing those hormones can definitely help improve health.
- Time in nature improves our mental performance and creativity. One study showed that participants performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.
- Studies of urban walking vs. nature walking show that nature walks tend to correlate with greater mood improvements. Walking in the woods makes us happier than walking in our neighborhood.
If you want the full scientific details about forest bathing, check out Wikipedia. They have very detailed laboratory results and actual studies of forest bathing sessions that are fascinating! Okay, maybe only if you are as geeky about these things as I am! You can also check out the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides at www.natureandforesttherapy.org.
How to Start Forest Bathing
All you really need to start your new forest bathing therapy trend is a pair of hiking boots and a map of your local hiking trails. Of course, like all great fitness trends, you can invest all sorts of time and money into it. You can sign up for forest bathing classes and get a ‘free starter kit’ to help you along the way. You can pay to be a member of the Associate of Nature and Forest Therapy. There are guide books of some sort. It seems a bit complicated to me but if you are a complete newbie to mindfulness and the natural world, you may find it beneficial.
Really, all you need to do is get yourself to a forest, sit yourself down on a comfy rock, and open your senses to the world around you. Incorporate this forest bathing therapy into your life regularly. Between the great hiking workout to get there and the benefits of mindfulness in nature, you will be well on your way to superb health in just a few months!
Have you ever tried forest bathing therapy?
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Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.