When I first heard the term “forest bathing,” I imagined sitting in a bathtub in the middle of the woods, swatting mosquitos and fishing acorns out of the lukewarm water. This did not sound relaxing to me, despite the article’s claim that the Japanese art of “Shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing, has been studied extensively for its stress-reducing properties.
Clearly, something had been lost in translation.
Forest bathing has nothing to do with personal hygiene and everything to do with calming the body, mind, and spirit. The traditional practice is “characterized by walking in a forest environment, watching it, and breathing its air.” Or, as Beth Kempton, author of “Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life” says,
“There is a lovely phrase in Japanese, kacho fugetsu. It literally means “flower-bird-wind-moon.” It refers to contemplating the beauty of nature. This kind of contemplation can prompt reflection on our own inner nature and remind us of our role as part of a magnificent whole, which puts everything into perspective.”
If you were to experience this practice with a certified forest therapy guide (a term coined by Professor Yoshi-fumi Miyazaki), you might walk slowly down a quiet, wooded path with a small group. Your guide would encourage you to use all of your senses to take in your surroundings, perhaps listening for the sound of distant water, laying on your back in the moss to watch birds flit thru the canopy, breathing deeply, fully present in the moment.
The practice of forest bathing is more than a hike in the park. It requires intentionality – with a focus on connecting with nature in a way that promotes happiness, openness, and healing.
And the healing is measurable. A 2019 systemic review assessed over 200 articles and found that forest bathing significantly reduced salivary cortisol levels, an important stress biomarker. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are shown to contribute to insulin resistance, weight gain, hypertension, inflammation, and other long-term health problems.
Other studies have linked forest therapy with improvements in immune system function, decreased cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and usefulness in treating depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
In a time when stress dominates the news, the workplace, and the home, forest bathing provides respite, relaxation, and relief. And all you need is a little time, a small green space, and your awakened senses.
As Beth so beautifully puts it once again,
“The forest does not care what your hair looks like. The mountains don’t move for any job title. The rivers keep running, regardless of your social-media following, your salary, or your popularity. The flowers keep blooming, whether or not you make mistakes. Nature just is, and welcomes you, just as you are.”
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