When you think of “bathing,” you probably picture sitting alone in a tub full of water. Maybe it’s in a large, luxurious spa; perhaps bubbles encase your body. Either way, it’s for cleaning the body of grime and scum.
This is not that kind of bathing.
Forest bathing doesn’t require water, but the end goal of cleansing remains the same. In this case, however, it’s purifying the mind and soul through the raw, pristine beauty of nature. There are no special actions or steps to be taken; it’s just you reconnecting with the planet.
Forest bathing has its roots in Japan, from the practice known as shinrin-yoku. It translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere,” and the practice is exactly that. The practitioner visits the forest and relaxes, allowing the healing powers of nature to wash over them. In this way, it’s very similar to meditation as the body enters a calm and eased state.
While the calming benefits are obvious, what’s less immediately noticeable are the effects on your health. In a 2009 study, Nippon Medical School professor Qing Li proved that natural killer (NK) cells were more active immediately and a month after a forest visit. NK cells are part of the immune system and target infected cells and forming tumors, making them a natural opponent to cancer. Another study by the Center for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences at Chiba University suggested that forest bathing lowers both blood pressure and pulse rate.
Similar studies were conducted to prove benefits for mental health as well. It’s already well-known that nature often has a calming effect on those with anxiety and/or depression. Forest bathers record lower hostility and depression levels and higher rates of joy and liveliness, Quartz Media reports. Other benefits include increased ability to focus (even in those with ADHD) and improved sleep patterns.
This is without accounting for its effects on inspiration. Plants are already a terrific way to boost creativity, so sitting alone in nature provides the same benefits and then some. It’s also excellent at removing yourself from distracting devices which may lower your productivity. Sitting alone with your thoughts gives you time to focus and work through them so they’re more easily dealt with when you return to civilization.
For those living in the city, a full visit to the forest isn’t even necessary. Simply visiting a park for an hour or two will suffice. The goal is to go somewhere quiet with plenty of trees and other plants. You may find the same sort of results in a quiet suburb or even a botanical garden; it all depends on the noise level and number of people present.
Of course, forest bathing isn’t for everybody. Those who grow anxious in forest spaces obviously won’t benefit from the practice. The same goes for those with limited mobility who may find traversing the rough terrain difficult. In the end, use your own judgment to determine if forest bathing is a good fit for your lifestyle.
Forest bathing may sound complicated, but it’s really as easy as immersing yourself in the natural beauty of our planet. Even just laying in the grass of your backyard qualifies. You don’t need any special equipment or training or even all that much physical activity. Shinrin-yoku is about reuniting with the world around us. Sit down, breath in the air, and unwind. The planet is reaching out to help you feel better. You just need to let it in to cleanse your body and your soul.
(Although we don’t recommend actually bathing in the middle of the woods. That’s a bit unhygienic.)
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