Forest Bathing For Better Health
The Japanese Art Of Shinrin-Yoku
The practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which roughly translates to ‘forest bathing’ is a popular pastime in Japan. Although the name might provoke the thought that it has been around for thousands of years, the term was coined very recently, in the 1980s. The purpose was to offer an escape for residents in a rapidly growing technology boom and to educate and motivate citizens to recognize and protect the natural forest that surrounded them. This concept is not unique to the Japanese. Spearheaded by Teddy Roosevelt, the late 19th century in the United States saw a similar movement. Thanks to Roosevelt, we are now blessed with the National Parks Service and the plethora of protected natural areas such as Yellowstone, Arches, and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks to name just a few from a very long list. This is not just a modern phenomenon either. Cyrus the Great, the Persian leader from 2500 years ago, established a lush green garden in the middle of the Persian capital to offer residents an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Think of it as a very early precursor to perhaps the most well-known city park in the U.S., Central Park in New York City. As someone who has had the good fortune of visiting is no doubt an incredible natural oasis in the middle of the metro.
In the 1990s, researchers in Japan began conducting studies on forest bathing, with striking results. The list of therapeutic effects include:
- Increase in immune function via a rise in the number of natural killer cells
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Enhanced feelings of gratitude and selflessness
Forest bathing has been considered a form of Nature Therapy (NT), which can be defined as “a set of practices aimed at achieving ‘preventive medical effects’ through exposure to natural stimuli that render a state of physiological relaxation and boost the weakened immune functions to prevent diseases.” (1) In lay speak, they’re saying that spending time immersed in nature makes you healthier and happier, and helps prevent you from getting sick in the first place. That’s a pretty awesome set of side effects. Anyone who regularly spends time in nature already knows this, but it’s nice to have it backed by scientific research.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a pristine forest outside their back door, but you have plenty of options to get closer to nature as well.
Firstly, a forest isn’t entirely necessary, any natural outdoor environment will suffice. My favorite place is the beach at night, where all 5 senses are easily stimulated. The eerie light cast down by a full moon provides just enough light to illuminate your path forward. The grit of the sand underneath your feet and between your toes. The stiff sea breeze blowing through your hair carries the salt odor with it. The gentle crashing of the waves along the shoreline. If that doesn’t make you feel better and appreciate the natural world around you, then I don’t know what will.
Urban dwellers should look for parks or greenways in your city. Chances are, there will be more than you think if you’ve never looked them up before. If you’re looking for more of an adventure, take advantage of the amazing national and state parks that litter the United States. Chances are you’re probably no more than a 2-hour car ride to a park, mountain, lake, forest, or beach where you can take a day trip or camp out for a few days.
Should you reside in a more rural area such as myself, the tasks become much easier. At the edge of our backyard, there is a small forest. During the spring and summertime, the foliage encases the tress and blocks the view of any surrounding evidence of humanity, and it’s only a few steps away.
To conclude, recent research has backed up what many have known for years, spending time submerged in nature offers a myriad of benefits, both mental and physical. Explore what nature has to offer near you to reap the benefits of this practice.
- Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K. Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy. A State of the art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017; 14(8):851