Forest Bathing; In the quest for health, many of us bend backward to implement crazy protocols and use expensive gadgets to hack out biology. As a result, we tend to ignore the free tools that are right in front of us, the tools that are the foundational pillars of vibrant health. Today we explore one such pillar known as forest bathing, which is the art of spending time in nature. Simple, but more profound than you might think.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing is also known as Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy, which was implemented as a natural preventative care program in Japan in the 1980s. The studies began when medical student Qing Li was dealing with the stress of medical school but found himself much more relaxed when spending time in the forest. As a Medical Doctor, he pursued the formal studies of forest bathing and how it could encourage health in himself and others.
Dr. Li released his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness in 2018 to publish his findings 1. Although the term forest bathing suggests a forest is needed, the benefits are felt anytime someone spends time in nature, no matter the landscape.
Forest bathing is not, however, about exercising. Most Americans spend most of their day indoors (studies suggest up to 22 hours a day for most of the population) and often go outdoors to exercise 2. Of course, exercise has its own benefits, which are increased when performed outdoors (more oxygen, please!), but this is not what forest bathing is about.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
The many benefits of forest bathing rely on relaxing and reconnecting with the natural worth in a very subtle way. Unlike going for a hike or trail run, forest bathing is about immersing yourself in the stillness of nature and noticing the more mundane details that live in natural environments. This means no phone, no technology, and no elevated heart rate!
Studies show that walking in nature benefits humans in ways walking in urban settings do not. These benefits include reduced pulse rate, improved mental health (including markers like depression and anxiety), lower dopamine (higher relaxation), better glucose regulation, and decreased adrenaline 3.
Another benefit of forest bathing is its ability to support a healthy immune system 4. Studies show that a week with consistent time spent relaxing in the forest could boost Natural Killer cells by 50 percent 5. These cancer and tumor-fighting cells were raised for about a month post forest bathing, which suggests that a trip into nature, even once a month, can provide an immense boost to the immune system and overall health!
Why Does Forest Bathing Work?
The mechanism is typically more than the sum of its parts, meaning we will never truly know all the magical ways forest bathing heals the human body and spirit. However, some of how spending more time in nature benefit human health include:
- Fresh air
- Vitamin D
- Circadian rhythm health
- Phytoncides exposure from plants
- Microbiome boost
Going into the forest (or other natural environments) without your phone or other technology is a great way to reap the benefits of many things people try to bio-hack with modern technology and supplements. So instead of using light devices, earthing pads, meditation apps with heart-rate monitors, or supplementing with vitamin D (although these things all have their time and place), why not just spend a few hours in the forest!?
What if You Don’t Have the Time?
Those who don’t have the time for it most likely need forest bathing the most. That being said, you can feel the benefits of this natural therapy in several ways that don’t necessarily require you to take a weekend trip out of the city.
You can experience the forest bathing benefits by getting out in nature for short periods. For example, you can sit in the park during your lunch break without a phone. Eat your lunch barefoot in the grass, and observe the blades of grass, bees pollinating flowers, or the trees blowing in the breeze.
So why not bring the outdoors? Consider a large printout of your favorite natural landscape for the office, and bring various plants into the room. You can benefit even more by opting for air-purifying plants like English ivy 7.
How to Forest Bathe
Yes, you can just get out and spend time in nature. Making it an art, however, will always improve your benefits. Whether you are drinking tea or doing the laundry: anything you do mindfully with intention becomes more of a meditation, and you will undoubtedly reap more benefits.
1. Low EMFs
A benefit of forest bathing is the distance you create from the interfering electromagnetic frequencies in city life. From cellphone towers to wifi boxes and cellphones: part of the benefits of modern life come with the added stress that these frequencies put on our magnetic body.
To get the most out of forest bathing, you want to not only benefit from the EMF-free environment provided when you spend time in nature but also avoid bringing any electronic devices with you. Beyond EMFs, these devices also take you out of the present moment, which is really what forest bathing is all about: being present and tuned in to the natural world!
2. Sensory Experience
Make your time in nature a full sensory experience. Take off your shoes to feel the earth on your feet. Smell the various smells, touch the trees and moss, and listen to the multiple sounds. Many of these things will be subtle, but the benefits are extraordinary. Consider taking a local foraging class to find which plants in your area are edible!
3. Slow Down
Don’t treat forest bathing as something to tick off your list. The more time you can spend in nature, the better. Can you dedicate a day per month to wandering in the forest or at the beach with no plan? See where the day takes you when you slow down.
4. Take Your Life Outdoors
What do you normally do indoors that you could take outdoors? Stacking your nature time with other things you already do can dramatically increase your time outdoors. Whether this is as simple as having dinners outside, taking a work call walking in the park, or chopping your veggies for dinner on the front porch: find simple ways to do what you previously did inside, and take it outside!
Forest bathing is the formal term for the immersion of self in nature and all the benefits we reap as humans when we unplug and immerse ourselves in the natural world. You can forest bathe in any natural landscape, and the benefits reach far and wide for mental and physical health. So to get the most out of your forest bathing experience: leave your electronics at home, make it a full-body sensory experience, slow down, and do it as often as possible.
Medical Disclaimer: information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
- Li, Qing. Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. Viking, 2018.
- Walden, Stephanie. “Story from Velux: The ‘Indoor Generation’ and the Health Risks of Spending More Time Inside.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 May 2018, www.usatoday.com/story/sponsor-story/velux/2018/05/15/indoor-generation-and-health-risks-spending-more-time-inside/610289002/.
- Li, Qing et al. “Effects of Forest Bathing on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Parameters in Middle-Aged Males.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2016 (2016): 2587381. doi:10.1155/2016/2587381
- Li, Qing. “Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function.” Environmental health and preventive medicine vol. 15,1 (2010): 9-17. doi:10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3
- Li, Q et al. “Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.” International journal of immunopathology and pharmacology vol. 20,2 Suppl 2 (2007): 3-8. doi:10.1177/03946320070200S202
- van den Berg, Magdalena M H E et al. “Autonomic Nervous System Responses to Viewing Green and Built Settings: Differentiating Between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Activity.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 12,12 15860-74. 14 Dec. 2015, doi:10.3390/ijerph121215026
- “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement.” NASA, Wolverton Environmental, www.wolvertonenvironmental.com/NASA-Report-89.pdf.