By: Deborah Fleischer and Ana Toepel, Green Impact
For all of us sheltering in place, how do we connect with nature when we are being encouraged not to visit our local parks and trails? The answer right now is Forest Bathing! The article Ana Toepel and I wrote for University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) on Forest Bathing has been super comforting to me during these challenging times. This piece is updated and slightly modified below:
Have you heard of forest bathing? Even if you haven’t, chances are you’ve had the experience of spending time in nature and returning home feeling happier, more relaxed, uplifted, or a bit more in balance. Throughout history, spiritual traditions have encouraged people to go into the wilderness to discover a deeper experience of life. Forest bathing is a new way of describing this ancient practice. The modern term comes from Shinrin-Yoku, a Japanese mindfulness practice that means literally “forest bath.”
Forest bathing is different from just walking in the woods; participants go into the forest not for exercise or enjoyment, but with a specific intention to connect with nature and to find healing, solace, and well-being. They are contemplative, quiet, sensitive, and aware of the present moment. Forest bathing involves soaking in the forest atmosphere with all of our senses, paying attention to what we see, hear, smell, and feel. Carla Brennan of Bloom of the Present Insight Meditation explains that in forest bathing “we let ourselves steep in the rich, diverse living environment of the forest and see what effect that has on us.”
Brennan expresses further that forest bathing “fosters our relationship to something bigger than ourselves and to the beauty and mystery of the more-than-human world.” With life today becoming more and more disconnected from nature, the current increasing popularity of forest bathing may be a signal that we all have a longing to experience our interconnectedness with the natural world.
Forest Bathing Makes You Happier and Healthier
Evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind is so great that doctors in Scotland are now prescribing it to patients, expecting it to improve patients’ blood pressure, reduce their risk of heart disease and strokes, and give their mental health a boost. UCSF’s Dr. Daphne Miller prescribes outdoor activities for her patients, known as a “Park Prescription.” Dr. Miller explained, “Nature has the possibility to be a health care intervention, almost like a pill. In many of the studies, there is a dose-response relationship. The more you get, the better the outcome.”
Research in Japan has shown that viewing forest landscapes leads to lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure. Additionally, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, found that “leisurely forest walks, compared with urban walks, show a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate.”
According to Brennan, the boost to the immune system can come from the compounds that trees emit. She shared that forest bathing can also provide relief from our obsessive thoughts and relentless schedules, offering the opportunity to slow down and “move at the speed of life.” Our mood can become more balanced and elevated, with a greater overall sense of well-being and belonging. Forest bathing also puts us in touch with the natural cycles of life, which may be why people sometimes report feeling more connected to their purpose and to what is most important in life after the experience.
Tips for Forest Bathing
Brennan explained that you don’t even need a literal forest to do forest bathing: “Any place where there are some plants, trees, and wild creatures can be a spot for forest bathing—yards , small parks, and larger parks.”
Other tips for making the most of your forest bathing experience:
- Clarify your intention first. Drop your everyday concerns and disconnect from technology.
- Be quiet, move slowly, pay attention, and open all your senses.
- Find a “socially distant” forest bathing buddy who can also take a forest bath. Share your experiences with each other afterward.
- Choose a “sit spot” in your backyard and sit silently there for at least 10-15 minutes regularly, making observations.
- Consider keeping a log of observations, insights, and reflections.
- Connect to your breathing and to your body as you sit with your tree. Remember that we are exchanging our breath with the trees.
- Go with an attitude of gratitude. Extend a simple gesture of appreciation to the living things and places you come in contact with.
- Incorporate art supplies and draw a simple image. Post on Instagram and tag @greenimpact2014.
Forest Bathing Resources
- Follow the Forest Bathing Club on Instagram for free resources and inspiration. They are offering Digital Forest Baths each Thursday.
- The Sacred Wilds SF
- The Forest Library
- Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, Santa Rosa
- “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning”