All you need to know about Japanese Practice of Forest Bathing

I had a special connection with nature from childhood and could perceive the art of wild things around me charmingly and intuitively. I still remember the days I used to talk to some of the trees in my backyard as they were so dear to me, and I considered them my companions. Into the woods I go, still feeling the restfulness and homely feeling that makes me comfortably surrounded by the quietness and stillness of the forests. Nature is the best therapist that guides me to calm my body and mind and feel centered, secured, and grounded in a world full of stimulation.

If you are thinking about reconnecting to nature that you have been missing due to many things in the modern lifestyle, you can always start it as a simple forest bathing practice. As you hear the word Forest bathing, you may wonder about taking your bathing suit with you into the woods where you go to take a forest bath. Not to be confused, I mentioned forest bathing here differently than just swimming in the water somewhere in the woods. And also, no need to carry your shampoo or soap to cleanse your body. Still, if you experience the Japanese practice of forest bathing, you will surely get the opportunity to cleanse your body and mind without dipping into the water.

What is forest bathing

Forest bathing (Shinrin-Yoku), the traditional Japanese practice, can be considered a form of nature therapy. This practice is based on the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku, coined by Tomhide Akiyama of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. Shinrin-Yoku translation in English is forest bathing, which means absorbing the forest atmosphere using your five senses. Even though the term Shinrin-Yoku was established in the early 80s, this practice has its roots back centuries as a mindfulness activity in Japanese culture. Ancient people in Japan identified some elements in nature, such as mountains, trees, stones, and rivers, as spiritual and sacred things, and they used to honor those elements. Forest bathing has already spread worldwide, and many people practice it to overcome stress, anxiety, and many other physical and psychological health issues due to the modern urbanized world.

Lately, modifying forest bathing more scientifically, the term forest therapy has become popular, and western medical doctors are prescribing nature to cure some psychological and physical health concerns. By considering the health and wellbeing outcomes of absorbing forest into human senses, the Japanese Forestry Agency decided to provide the blueprint for the “Forest Therapy Stations project” in 2005. The main idea for forest therapy came from the term “aromatherapy”. A forest therapy trip to the woods helps you to relax and reenergize while breathing the fresh air with hundreds of forest smells called phytoncide (wood essential oil). Those organic compounds from trees enhance human natural killers cell activity

During forest therapy programs in Japan, groups are involved in immersive nature walks. They get an invitation to slow down the phase of their everyday lifestyle and reconnect with the natural elements such as trees, flowers, water, soil, the temperature of the environment, sounds, and smells in the forest atmosphere. While experiencing this practice, you can smell the forest scents from natural elements such as wildflowers, leaves, soil, or moss. They also get the chance to listen to the forest sounds they can absorb as a calming forest story, and they can taste the wild edibles, guided meditation, and the opportunity to play with water nearby streams.

The health benefits of practicing Forest Bathing

Spending time in natural environments refers to good health and wellbeing, and it has been identified through multiple pathways, including physical, psychological, emotional, social, occupational, and spiritual wellbeing. Practicing forest bathing is one of the best ways to engage with nature and obtain the benefits at its best. So, plenty of scientific studies have shown the reliable and measurable physical and mental health benefits of forest bathing or just spending your time in nature.

Kaplan and Kaplan’s (1989) Attention Restoration Theory (ART) asserts that humans can concentrate better after spending time in nature or even watching nature sceneries from a window. This theory further discusses that the natural environment has plenty of “soft fascinations,” such as clouds floating in the sky, the wind blowing through the tree leaves, or water flowing in a stream that helps people pay effortless attention. ART proposes that soft fascination benefits reducing
daily stress, experiencing situations in a relaxed way, engaging in activities without conflicts, and critically experiencing the stimuli from soft fascination.

Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) is another popular theory related to the subject, and Ulrich (1986) formulated SRT based on several studies conducted in a hospital setting to explain emotional health and physiological reaction in the presence of the natural environment. SRT explains that looking at a green environment or exposes to a green environment can create positive psychological responses. These emotional responses are unconscious, immediate, and spontaneous, accompanied by increased positive vibes and reduced arousal.

The reason that nature is beneficial for physical health seems easy to understand. Since the natural environment indicates a large amount of oxygen and low amounts of pollutants, the air quality is good for several health outcomes. As well as phytoncide, negative air iron, natural sights, natural sounds, and natural temperature can be mentioned as active ingredients from nature to enhance physical health.

A recent study shared knowledge about how the environment can impact cardiovascular and respiratory disease. It confirms that males living in urban green areas had a modest 5% lower risk of cardiovascular illnesses, and males living in urban greener areas had a considerably 11% reduced risk for respiratory diseases. A Canadian research group established how much a tree in the street or neighborhood park could improve health in a greater urban area in Toronto, Canada. The study revealed that people who live in a street with a higher density of trees report better overall health and less cardio-metabolic conditions than those who live in a street with a lower density of trees.

As I mentioned above in the introduction about forest bathing, Japan is one of the famous destinations for using nature as a therapeutic source. Therefore, many studies related to nature and health can be found in the Japanese environmental context. A study in Japan using middle-aged hypertensive individuals demonstrates that heart rate had significantly reduced when participants were exposed to forest areas compared to when they walked in an urban setting. Moreover, Another Japanese study reported that heart rate was significantly lower in middle-aged Japanese females after the forest walk. The drop-in heart rate reflects that they are more relaxed in the forest environment.

Scientific evidence shows that the forest environment has therapeutic effects of reducing blood pressure. A study proved that walking in a forest notably decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure in older women. Another study revealed that 20 minutes of walking in a forest atmosphere is beneficial to lowering blood pressure in young male students.

While many studies have proven nature’s physical health benefits, there is evidence that nature hugely benefits psychological health improvement and overall quality of life. An experimental study conducted in Lithuania indicated that even a 30-minute walk in an urban park positively affected stress relief compared to the participant walking in an urban setting. The participants exposed to the urban street setting experienced adverse effects on stress relief after seven days of walking.

Another group of researchers has proven how nature exposure makes people healthier. The nature exposure and nature accessibility from the residential place reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and improve overall health and wellbeing.

Nature-based rehabilitation study has focused on positive psychological effects on natural settings. At the beginning of the study, the participants experienced difficulties adjusting to the forest environment. However, they gradually appreciated the forest environment. They noticed peace of mind, mood improvements towards positive feelings, boosted energy, and some participants took the initiative for the new behaviors to positively adjust their lives.

A study carried out in Helsinki capital of Finland, revealed that forest and urban park settings are very effective in gaining restorative outcomes and vitality levels in urban dwellers.

Moods play an essential role in human life. It strongly influences happiness, enjoying the moment, appreciating things in life, coping with stress, and the overall quality of life. One study confirmed that green exercise improves self-esteem and overall mood. Further, the study reveals that green exercise helps to overcome mental health problems.

After reviewing many studies on the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, theoretical analysis of hedonic and eudemonic wellbeing suggests spending time in nature is one way to flourish in life after.

Even though many studies have proved that spending time in nature is beneficial for health and wellbeing, our society still needs to pay more attention to utilizing nature as a vital mental health-promoting source. Many people have access to natural environments such as urban green spaces, community gardens, nature trails, or wild backyards. Connecting to these environmental settings may improve your overall life wellbeing.

Want to Try Forest bathing yourself ?

Now you know what forest bathing is and its proven health benefits. So it’s time to try forest bathing yourself to improve your overall wellbeing.

You do not have to worry about finding a forest if you live in an urban area. So find a nearby urban park, wild area, or even your backyard if you have some trees and wild elements. And also any time of the year you can experience forest bathing.

Find free time for at least 1 to 2 hours so you can focus on this practice without any interruptions. Put your mobile devices on airplane mode or keep them away from you to avoid digital distractions. After reaching the location, start with basic stretches of your ankles, knees, wrist, and hips. That helps to stimulate the fluid that lubricates joints in your body.
Then, take 3 minutes to inhale and exhale fresh air in the natural surroundings. Sit or stand quietly and continue breathing to prepare your body and mind more relaxedly. It may be challenging to do it quite, but that will come easier with time.

As the next step, start slowly walking. Pay attention to the nature around you. Pick a tree, rock, or side of a stream that feels close to you and explore your chosen element using your senses. For example, if you select a tree, you can touch the tree leaves, trunk, roots, and flowers and smell the leaves and flowers of it. Pay deep attention to its different colors of it, the formation of the branches, and the shapes of the leaves. Most importantly, try to avoid letting your thoughts wander around. Please keep steadily focusing on experiencing the element you choose.

Take time to sit under a tree or next to a stream. Listen to the birds chirping, look at the sky, focus on how softly and effortlessly clouds are floating, and listen to the wind blowing around you. Experience the stillness and quietness in nature around you.

You and move on to another nature element and continue the practice while relaxing as you are comfortable. You will start to connect deeply with nature and feel relaxed and calm.

Take a moment – pause your thoughts – notice the nature around you!


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