- Issue: Fall 2020
You wander slowly through a forest, steps cushioned by moss. Or you sit in a grassy patch, warmed by the sun. An aroma of damp earth wafts up. Trees sigh in the wind, leaves fluttering. A part of you, deep down, sighs too.
Relaxing in nature is hardly a new notion, but the increasingly popular practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, goes deeper. The Japanese tradition is not about being in water but about simply immersing one’s senses in the environment. Practicing alone or with others, “bathers” seek to connect with the natural world, disconnect from stress, and improve their well-being.
Savoring the outdoors can even bolster your health, studies show. Researchers in Japan found forest bathing lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels and strengthens the immune system. And people who spent at least two hours a week in nature reported feeling a greater sense of well-being than those who didn’t get outdoors, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports.
There’s no need to live near deep woods to forest bathe, either; just find a secluded natural area, ideally with trees. Observe small details: sunlight playing through the leaf canopy, the roughness of oak bark compared with the smoothness of birch, or the melody of a songbird. Some bathers combine sensory immersion with breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga. And for those interested in guidance, forest therapy experts offer mindful nature excursions.