Here’s a statistic for you, because we want to start off the case for forest bathing strong: the average American spends 78% of their time indoors, with another 6% of time spent inside an enclosed vehicle or transportation mechanism.
Together, humans are spending approximately 84% of their time with minimal exposure to sunlight and long days without much space to breathe.
Our ancestors, on the other hand, were spending loads of time outdoors. We’ve come a long way with shelter and sourcing our food, so it only makes sense that our daily lives look a little different these days, but the difference isn’t a subtle one.
Our time outside generally isn’t spent there for leisure. Rather, we’re getting all of our sun exposure and outdoor exercise from arduous tasks like running errands or getting to the train to commute.
So, the Japanese have an idea for us – a bit of a band-aid to our indoors inclinations. Shinrin-yoku was a term coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982.
It directly translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere,” and forest bathing is pretty much as simple as that.
It doesn’t mean backpacking trips, long hikes or strenuous treks deep into the backcountry. Don’t worry – it’s much more accessible than that, and you could probably begin your practice shortly after reading this article if you wanted to.
How to bathe in the forest
With no bath tub required, you can think of forest hygiene as more of a “soul cleanse.” In fact, we encourage getting a little dirty if you’re out on the trail to embrace all aspects of play.
A true forest bathing session simply includes an often brief and leisurely walk beneath the trees and under forest canopies.
Additional aspects of your forest bathing routine can include meditation or mindfulness practices. You can carve out time to do silent meditation, sat down under the shade.
You could also do mindful breathing exercises, journaling or anything that gets you to slow down. See, forest bathing is different from a simple walk or a hike not only because of its nature (no pun intended) but because it lacks a destination.
The health benefits of forest bathing
Forest bathing isn’t just for the tree-hugging hippie. It can benefit anyone at all. Its effects will likely be most profound to those who don’t spend much time outdoors, those who live in cities and people with high stress levels.
Between intentional walking, getting some exercise, potentially soaking up a little sun through those trees and just being engrossed in a wide, open green space, there are endless improvements it can lend to the quality of life we experience.
This study shows decrease in blood pressure, stress hormones and heart rate.
- Immune system booster. One of the most convincing factors is the ability that forest bathing has on increasing “natural killers,” white blood cells in our body that are thought to fight tumour cells. It’s believed that consistent forest bathing can increase these white blood cells by up to 50% in just three days according to this study.
- Lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Cortisol release induces that “fight or flight” response you know if you’ve ever been in distress or experienced anxiety. We need some levels of cortisol, but consistently raised levels can lead to chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. Forest bathing regularly can keep cortisol at a healthy balance in the body.
- Reduced blood pressure. Blood pressure is raised when our lifestyle choices add up in a negative way. Between diet and stress, blood pressure is at an all-time high, and many people are medicated for it. Forest bathing, healthy diet and other stress management techniques can reduce blood pressure long-term.
- Improved mood. Even in tough times, forest bathing can help us find our centre a bit. This study shows time spent in green spaces reduced the impact of stress that individuals experienced, providing a better buffer for good mood management.
- More energy during the day. Spending time in green spaces can be as effective as a midday cat nap. Instead of hitting the pillow, hit the trail!
- Improved sleep. Exposure to sunlight, playful movement and stress reduction can all improve insomnia conditions, normalise circadian rhythm, help individuals stay asleep at night and improve sleep quality with deeper sleep.
- Phytoncides. These volatile substances – simply meaning they vaporise in the air – are antimicrobial properties given off by plants. Breathing in that tree-infused air is thought to have therapeutic benefits and promote relaxation.
The deeper purpose of Shirin-yoku
Forest bathing is a small commitment of time each day that produces great results with consistency. Along with our basic needs – shelter, food and water – we have many other fulfillments to meet to cultivate a baseline quality of life that offers us happiness and health.
Among those additional duties, we should seek sheer beauty. Just ask John Muir – also known as “John of the Mountains” – who explains it quite well: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
As humans beings who can experience such a range of emotion, we should take more time to inspire awe and wonder . Being immersed in the outdoors is a fantastic way to tap into meditative states, primal playtime and sheer joy.
Forest bathing can increase the depth of our experience as humans and connect us to ourselves and our surroundings in new and profound ways.
We hope you enjoyed this information about forest bathing. Do you think you would try this? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and share this article with your outdoors-loving friends. Share on Pinterest from here!
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