Looking for a way to unwind? How about experiencing the sights, sounds and feel of the forest, soaking it all in for its therapeutic value? Sounds nice, right?
Enter: Forest bathing.
Forest bathing doesn’t have anything to do with soaping up, but it can provide relaxation like your favorite bubble bath does. The practice has quickly been gaining popularity in the United States, and you can even find a Certified Forest Therapy Guide.
What does Forest Bathing Mean?
Forest bathing is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere.
The practice originated in Japan in the late 1980’s and was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as “Shinrin-yoku,” which roughly translated means “forest bathing.”
What Forest Bathing Is Not
Most of us think of a sweaty hike when we think of a trip to the woods. Forest bathing is set at a much slower pace and is focused on fully experiencing the nature around us. It isn’t about covering a set distance, raising your heart rate or even about the exercise.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing has many benefits, including:
- Creating kung fu fighting killer cells.
- Decreased risk of heart attack.
- Protection against obesity and diabetes.
- More energy and better sleep.
- Mood-boosting effects.
- Decreased inflammation.
- Clearer, more comfortable skin.
- Soothing relief for sore muscles.
- Anti-inflammatory terpenes.
1. Creating Kung Fu Fighting Killer Cells
OK, so your body doesn’t actually do martial arts, but it does have natural killer, or NK, cells that are just as awesome. These NK cells selectively seek out and destroy cancer cells and bacterial infections in the body. They’re also smart enough to target a viral infection inside of one of your cells, without destroying the entire cell.
One Japanese study demonstrated that after a three-day camping trip in the forest, participants averaged a whopping 50 percent increase in NK cell activity. Forest bathing has been scientifically shown to increase immunity, decrease the risk of cancer and help you to recover from illness faster. One study showed that even looking at trees through a hospital window increased recovery time for gallbladder surgery patients.
Not only does forest bathing enhance NK cell activity, but it also increases their number, and for a significant length of time: the positive effects lasted for more than a week after the forest excursion.
2. Decreased Risk of Heart Attack
Multiple forest bathing studies have demonstrated its ability to significantly reduce blood pressure, stress levels and pulse rate. A trip through the woods will also increase your body’s adiponectin levels. These have an anti-inflammatory effect on blood vessel cells and have been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack.
3. Protection Against Obesity and Diabetes
Increased adiponectin is also inversely related to obesity and insulin resistance. The substance is secreted by fat cells and regulates our fat metabolism, glucose levels and weight gain. Forest bathing reduces blood glucose levels, even in diabetics. Diabetic patients did a forest bathe walk every eight months for six years. Even though their time spent forest bathing was very spaced out, their blood glucose levels still showed significant improvement.
4. More Energy and Better Sleep
Many of us notice the revitalized feeling we get from taking a deep breath in a natural location. It’s not just your imagination — forest bathing has been shown to increase vigor and fight fatigue. At the same time, it triggers hormones and processes in our body that improve sleep. It’s also been shown to reduce dopamine and cortisol levels, meaning it reduces stress and calms the body and mind.
5. Mood-Boosting Effects
A small study of 19 men showed that anxiety, depression and confusion levels were improved after a forest bathing trip. They compared the forest walking group to one walking through an urban area. Even though both groups had the health benefits of exercise, the forest bathing group clearly won out. This is just one example of the many studies showing the mood boosting effects of forest bathing.
6. Decreased Inflammation
Forest air is noticeably fresher than city air, or even other nature environments, since the trees are busy converting CO2 into fresh oxygen for our lungs. Not only is the air fresher, but the compounds naturally released by the trees decrease inflammation. The D-limonene found in some forest air reduces lung inflammation. Those with breathing problems like asthma and COPD have shown improvement after forest bathing as oxygen is increased and inflammation is lessened.
7. Clearer, More Comfortable Skin
Inflammation is the cause of many issues in the body, including certain skin disorders. Those with eczema and psoriasis can see benefits after forest bathing. Terpenes are some of the main anti-inflammatory components expressed by trees into the forest air and are mainly found in conifers like cypress, fir and pine trees.
8. Soothing Relief for Sore Muscles
There are over 40,000 known terpene structures and they have a wide variety of positive effects on the body. Osteoarthritis relief, reduced joint pain and inflammation, and decreased neck and back pain are just some of the proven benefits.
Two groups with neck pain did forest bathing, but one group added in a four-hour stretching and strengthening exercise. Painful and tight trigger points in the neck area were reduced more in the exercise group. However, pain, inflammation and range of motion in the group that didn’t exercise was just as good.
9. Anti-inflammatory Terpenes
Different terpenes have also proven to be effective against inflammation in the brain, liver and pancreas to keep these vital organs healthy. The terpene borneol protects the brain and nervous system and may help protect against degenerative brain diseases that stem from inflammation, like Alzheimer’s.
As mentioned earlier, forest bathing helps fight against cancer cell growth, and that’s due in part to the terpene D-limonene. This terpene has anti-tumor properties and studies have shown it effective against breast, intestine, pancreas, liver and colon cancers.
How to Forest Bathe
All of these benefits won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to forest bathe. Dedicated Shinrin-yoku forests in Japan are predominantly conifer trees, but other trees are still beneficial for forest bathing. The point is to take a trip into the forest to soak in and fully experience your surroundings.
There are forest bathing guides that are certified through the association of nature and forest therapy.
According to this group “The aim of forest therapy is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment.”
Lying on the ground, meditating, gathering forest edibles and noticing the foliage are some of the different ways you can forest bathe.
How Often Should You Forest Bathe?
Most of the studies showed benefits when participants went on forest bathing trips every one to four weeks. The more often you can go, the better. However, positive results were still seen even seven days after a forest bathing trip, and even as long as 30 days later.
Where to Forest Bathe
In the United States, any nature scene is considered acceptable for forest bathing, however Japan takes a more scientific approach. Shinrin-yoku trails in Japan are only certified as such after blood sampling shows a specific increase in natural killer cells. Choosing an area that’s heavily wooded by conifer trees may be best, but really any heavily wooded area will do. Just don’t forget the all-natural bug spray!
If you’re sweating, are distracted by swatting at bugs, or there are noisy children running around, then you can’t focus on relaxing. Choose a place with a comfortable temperature with minimal noise and distractions.
Enhance the Experience with Earthing
Since the idea is to connect with the Earth, grounding or barefoot shoes help improve the experience. This also enhances your perception of the surroundings. Depending on the area you’re in and the exact circumstances, you can also kick your shoes off and go barefoot. Electromagnetic exposure from wireless devices, cell phone towers, and other modern-day technology saturates our environments. Earthing and forest bathing gives us a way to reset our natural electromagnetic fields and center the body. Read more practical ways to reduce your EMF exposure here.
No Forest? No Problem!
If a whole forest isn’t available to you, then even standing underneath a single tree and inhaling deeply will benefit the body to some degree. Lay on a patch of healthy grass. Go to a nature park. There’s even some evidence to suggest that focusing on a picture of a forest may have some health benefits!
Amplify Forest Bathing with Essential Oils
If you’re not able to get out to a forest, and instead find yourself gazing at forest pictures, essential oils can improve upon the experience. Conifer essential oils from sources like cypress, pine, juniper, cedarwood and fir contain many of the same beneficial constituents trees release during forest bathing.
Scents from conifer trees and rosemary were found to promote a healthy inflammatory response throughout the body in one study. However, the effects were even greater when these oils were combined with frankincense. Using a diffuser in the room, or even a personal diffuser, like a diffuser necklace, or personal inhaler are good ways to experience these oils.
Final Thoughts on Forest Bathing
People have instinctively reaped the benefits of communing with nature for thousands of years. Recently this has manifested as the increasingly popular trend of forest bathing. This trend though looks like it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
What About You?
Have you forest bathed before, or is it something you’d like to try? Maybe you’ve already been reaping the benefits and didn’t know this was the hot new thing! Share your experiences in the comments below!