What Is Forest Bathing or Shinrin-Yoku?: Reducing Stress and Improving Happiness Through the Practice of Forest Bathing
Many of us are aware of how prevalent stress is in our fast-paced society, and also how harmful chronic stress can be to our health. We have heard of mental therapies like meditation and positive thinking and physical therapies like nutrition and exercise. While these therapies are excellent for reducing stress and improving well-being, there is another powerful and effective practice that deserves recognition.
The practice is known in Japan as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. It is a practice of simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
We all know how good being in nature can make us feel. The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air — these things give us a sense of comfort, they ease our stress and worry, and they help us to relax and to think more clearly. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us.
Reconnecting With Nature Through Forest Bathing
In Japan, the practice of forest bathing, sometimes referred to as nature therapy, is utilized as an effective therapy for those suffering from psychological disturbances like stress, anxiety, and depression. Forest bathing acts as a bridge between us and the natural world. It reconnects us with our original home on the earth and reminds us of the living ecosystem that we are a part of. Time spent in nature reminds us that our human-created cities and jobs are not all there is to life. There is so much beauty, abundance and diversity in nature, and when we explore the natural world and immerse our senses in it, it reminds us of this natural beauty.
Never have we as humans been so divorced from nature. By 2050, 66% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities, and according to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors.
The idea of forest bathing is to reconnect with the natural world, to be in nature a little more deliberately than usual. Open your senses. Inhale the smell of the forest. Touch the soil. Listen to the birds sing their melodies. See the beauty all around you.
Much of our stress comes from our overworked minds and our heavy load of responsibilities—our busy lifestyles, our work projects, our email overload, and our general disconnect from nature. Forest bathing can help us restore our connection to nature, and can help us find a great sense of peace in the process.
David Yaden, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, says, “There have been studies comparing walking in nature with walking in an urban environment and testing people on their mood, different aspects of depression, and in some cases, brain scans. In the natural setting, people are more relaxed and less stressed.”
Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
After years of research, there is now a vast collection of scientific evidence that proves that forest bathing helps:
- lower heart rate and blood pressure
- increases the ability to focus
- accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
- increases energy levels
- improves sleep quality
- reduces stress hormone production
- boosts the immune system
- improves mood and betters overall feelings of wellbeing
Leave Your Stree in the Forest
It might sound too good to be true, but nature therapy is truly revolutionizing the health community’s approach to stress management. It should be obvious to us that a life completely removed from any natural connection is bound to lead to disharmony. Thankfully, we are realizing the great benefit of spending time in natural environments, and remembering more about ourselves as human beings in the process. The practice of forest bathing is a reminder that we are human beings of the earth, and our physical and mental health is intimately connected with how we relate to and live with the earth.