Written by Jessica Johnsrud, Education Coordinator
We’ve all heard of taking a bath, but what about forest bathing? This form of nature therapy, originally from Japan and known as shinrin yoku, involves immersing yourself in a forest by engaging your senses.
Why is forest bathing beneficial? Simple: nature is medicine. Researchers have been studying the effects of nature on human health for decades. Its been found that spending time in nature can reduce inflammation, depression, and anger. It can improve cardiovascular health, cognitive function, creativity and concentration. Time in nature instills a sense of awe, which helps us feel more open and connected to something bigger than us. This releases dopamine, improves the immune system, reduces the body’s stress response and increases our sense of empathy toward others. There are even immediate effects from just 15 minutes of forest bathing, including a decrease in blood pressure and improvement in mental clarity.
Forest bathing is fairly simple. First, tuck away distractions such as your cell phone and camera. Also, leave your goals behind. There is no destination during this practice, because it’s about discovery and awareness. You will be walking slowly and pausing along the way. Finally, if you go with others, agree to be silent until after.
Start by finding a quiet spot to stand or sit. Take in a few deep, slow breaths. Now it’s time to ignite your senses. Notice the sounds and the aromas around you. Feel the wind as it moves across your body. Look around and observe the colors and textures of the forest. Let these sights, sounds, aromas and sensations wash over you and heighten your sensory awareness for the duration of your forest bath.
Next, slowly wander along the trail, taking the time to really notice. Move almost sloth-like slow. Look at your surroundings as if it were the first time you’ve seen a forest. Touch and smell tree bark, soil and plants. Feel the temperature of the air as it enters your nose and as it exits. Notice the sun as it warms your skin and casts shadows along the forest floor.
At some point along your lackadaisical walk, find a place to stop and sit. Quiet your mind and be still. Observe how the behavior of the birds changes after they are used to your presence. Note how the wind is moving the branches. Breathe.
Take as much time as you can to forest bathe. Some people take a couple of hours and walk less than a quarter mile! If time is limited, give yourself at least 20 minutes and you’ll still reap the benefits.
There are many wonderful places to try this in our area. Conifer Trail at Woodland Dunes is one of my favorites. You can forest bathe any place that has a few trees. Perhaps a city park or even your yard would be a great place to start.
Give forest bathing a try and experience the calm that nature can provide, if we slow down and soak it in.