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Forest bathing: what is it and should you try it?

What exactly is forest bathing?

While it may sound like something you do while camping, forest bathing is actually a great activity to add to your wellness routine. An increasingly popular form of nature therapy, forest bathing takes the concept of being outside for wellness a step farther. This isn’t the same as running trails, hiking, or biking in your local park (though we still definitely recommend those for exercise!). In fact, forest bathing and nature therapy aren’t exercise at all. Forest bathing actually comes from a Japanese method of connecting with nature through your senses. 

Most people don’t get enough fresh air, let alone spend any extensive time in nature. Especially now, people tend to spend the majority of their day indoors and connected to electronic devices. Whether it’s a stressful job, or just scrolling through feeds and binging the latest Netflix show, it’s easy to forget about what’s happening outside your window. Even when people do go outside, it usually involves a lot of activity, like camping, boating, or hiking. Forest bathing takes a different approach, encouraging people to take a moment and just be present in the natural world, without any extra exertion. Forest therapy is a way to disconnect and reset, and can be very healing for your emotional well-being. Similarly, forest bathing instructs us to discover our connection to nature, specifically trees, and experience the sights, smells, and sensations on a deeper level. Best of all, this form of nature therapy is totally free!

Wellness benefits of forest bathing

Can simply walking through a forest really make that much of a difference? Science says yes, forest bathing has real health benefits. Researchers conducted a study that compared how individuals felt before and after experiencing different environments. One group walked through an urban city environment, and the other through a natural forest environment. Surprisingly, the group that walked in the forest showed significantly reduced pulse rates, and increased scores for vigor (energy) compared to the city and control groups. They also reported decreased scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion. In short, being in nature made people happier and less stressed. When paired with increased mindfulness, the benefits of forest therapy include:

  • Lowered cortisol levels 
  • Decreases in blood pressure, especially due to stress 
  • Elevated mood
  • Promoting better rest and relaxation 
  • Boosting creativity 

Many of these benefits are the same as if you were to simply spend time outdoors. The difference here is the mindfulness aspect of forest bathing. Similar to meditation, during your nature therapy session, your focus is 100% on the present. This practice can produce a more noticeable effect on your mood and mental well-being, compared to a run on the beach or a strenuous hike. Forest bathing is most beneficial as a regular stress-reducing activity, but just one session can have these effects, too!

How to practice forest bathing

Good news! Trying forest bathing for yourself is easy. Here’s how to practice forest therapy in your area. First, locate a quiet, secluded spot amidst nature. Avoid popular parks or paths, and skip the sweaty hikes. The goal here is to limit your distractions and find peace. On that note, turn off your phone notifications. While having your phone is a good idea for safety purposes, you don’t want texts or Instagram notifications to take away from your experience.

Once you’ve found your spot, take your time. It’s not about getting to a destination, or the time it takes to get there. Because forest bathing isn’t exercise, there’s no need to compete or rush. It’s all about being in the present moment, fully and completely. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Now, use all your senses: see the colors and shapes of the sun filtering through the trees; listen to the sounds of birds, insects, and leaves rustling; breathe in the smell (hey, that’s natural aromatherapy!); touch the trunk of a tree, or lie on the soft grass. Notice all the sensations as you interact with your natural surroundings. You may feel a release of stress, and enjoy a sense of relaxation and peace. You can stay there for as long or as little as you need. 

Where to go for forest therapy

Your biggest challenge in practicing forest bathing will likely be finding a good spot. For the best experience, look for a place with lots of trees. Not only do they provide more shade, but trees are also great for nature therapy thanks to their many textures, colors, and sounds. Choose a tree-filled location away from buildings, roads, and playgrounds to minimize distractions. National and state parks are a great option, as they usually have plenty of room for you to find your own secluded spot. Plus it’s a great way to support the National Park Service.

You can easily practice forest bathing alone. But if you’re not sure where to start, or want someone to help you focus, there are guides that specialize in forest bathing. Check the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy to find a guide near you.