I’ve Tried Forest Bathing, and You Should Too

IMG_9899Are you picturing a big soaking tub in the woods – or dreaming about skinny dipping? Forest bathing isn’t as exotic as it sounds, but its health benefits are compelling.

In 1982, Japanese scientists coined the term shinrin-yoku (which translates roughly to “bathing, showering or basking” in the forest) to promote a national health program. The aim was to reconnect people with nature by getting them into greenspace.

Forest bathing doesn’t require any swimming. It’s about slowing down and becoming immersed in nature. It doesn’t mean hiking, but rather meandering and taking in the forest atmosphere by using all of your senses. No need to think, analyze or worry. Just be in the moment.

A large body of research now documents that forest bathing boosts immunity and mood, and lowers blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cortisol (a stress hormone).

Amos Clifford, who founded the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, is working to train a global network of guides to help connect people with the healing power of the forests. He believes forest therapy is so powerful that our healthcare system should “incorporate healthful, gentle visits to forests as a core strategy for wellness.”

IMG_0024I recently went into the woods for a slow walk of my own, and I learned that when you go to the forest to relax, the forest relaxes you. 

I started by tuning in to every sound I could hear. Sticks crunched under my feet as birds fluttered by. A red tailed hawk made its high pitched call as an airplane passed far above. As I inhaled the crisp fall air, the scent of fallen leaves and pines filled my head. I closed my eyes to savor the scent, and when I opened them again, I saw fifty shades of green. Unplugging for just that brief outing was bliss.

You might feel like you barely have 5 minutes to shower, let alone go for a slow walk in the woods, but there are other ways to reap some of the stress reducing benefits of forest therapy.

Here are 3 Micro-doses to Try:

Notice Nature – Just observing nature can reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Gaze out the window as you wash the dishes, look again at the grasshopper perched on your car hood, or stare at the stars before you curl up in bed.

Get Out – Take a short walk outdoors. Use all of your senses to tune into your surroundings. Listen to the sounds of the birds and the leaves in the breeze. Touch the bark of a tree, feel your feet on the path. Notice the brilliant colors of a flower, the sunlight streaming through the foliage. Being in nature soothes your nervous system.

Breathe that Scent Inside – Studies have shown that the woodsy aromas of cedar, cypress, pine and other evergreens induce a sense of calm. To enjoy that scent inside, you can use any type of conifer essential oils in a diffuser. (Sorry, the scented cardboard tree from your local car wash won’t cut it!)

I hope you give forest bathing – or at least a micro-dose of it – a try. Let me know what you discover!

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