What is Forest Bathing?

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." - Lao Tzu


If you’re anything like me, hearing the phrase ‘forest bathing’ for the first time, it seems like, unless you’re a woodland creature in a fairy tale, those are two words that don’t necessarily belong together. What does it even mean? Are we bathing? In the forest??

Well…. yeah, kind of.

The phrase forest bathing comes from the Japanese shinrin-yoku; in Japanese, shinrin means ‘forest,’ and yoku means ‘bath.’ So yes, when we refer to forest bathing, we are literally talking about bathing in, or, immersing oneself in, the forest atmosphere.

The practice of forest bathing emerged in Japan in the early 80’s as a way for residents to reconnect with the country’s forests while inspiring folks to be moved to protect the land to which they were becoming connected. And while the concept of taking time to slow down and reap the many benefits of communing with nature wasn’t new, forest bathing grew in popularity as much of the world continued to move more toward an increasingly hectic and tech-driven pace.

But that doesn’t quite answer the question: what exactly is forest bathing?

Forest bathing, put simply, is the act of consciously being in nature. While there is often a walking component to it, forest bathing is neither a hike nor just a walk in the woods; it goes a little deeper than that. It’s an active engagement of all your senses. It’s allowing yourself to make the nature-human connection by tuning in to all the things that we may miss when we’re out on a hike and focused on a destination rather than fully immersing ourselves in our natural surroundings. It’s an opportunity to untether ourselves from our fast-paced lives and s l o w down long enough to appreciate a world that is bigger than us, a world that extends beyond our bubbles.

Well, that sounds nice and all, but, what’s the point?

Apart from offering us some much-needed refuge from ringing phones and seemingly endless Zoom meetings, the practice of forest bathing can reap tons of benefits, both physiologically and psychologically. Studies have long shown that spending time outdoors, even for short periods of time, has a positive effect on overall health. Forest bathing, in particular, is known to increase energy and boost your immune system while reducing stress levels, anxiety, and depression, to name just a few of its many benefits.

Feel like you don’t have enough time to incorporate regular forest bathing into your routine? When can you possibly find space to add activities to an already full day? Great news! You don’t actually need to spend a whole lot of time outdoors to start to see the positive effects of some of these benefits. Look, I’m all for getting outside as often as possible, but the reality is, some of us have a lot on our plates. And burnout is very real. Sometimes you don’t have the energy to figure out the logistics of where to go and for how long. The beauty of forest bathing is, despite its name, you don’t have to trek out to the woods to practice it. You can find any green space where you can feel safe and relaxed and just engage with your surroundings. And in as little as 20 minutes a day, it is likely that you will start to see a marked effect on your overall health.

Now, you might be thinking that you’re not active enough. Or maybe you don’t consider yourself to be a wilderness lover. That’s okay! Forest bathing can be for everyone. Casual walkers and outdoor adventure junkies alike can enjoy forest bathing. The practice itself is incredibly low-impact and intentionally non-strenuous, making it a stress-free and accessible practice for all people to enjoy. It can be as meandering or as structured as you’d like it to be. You can go it alone or find a group and a guide to join for a forest bathing experience where an expert can guide you through meditation and breathing exercises.

Feeling like you want to give it a shot – and I think that you should! – but not quite sure how to go about it? Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

  • Pick a location. Sure, with its abundance of trees and wildlife, a forest or wooded area would be an excellent choice. However, I appreciate that we don’t live in places where an enchanted forest is convenient. Any green space, preferably with a few trees will do. A nearby city park, an open field, or even your own backyard if you’ve got one, are all great places to explore. There is no one place that makes all people feel calm and safe. You pick your place and go there.
  • Leave the tech behind! This one can be tricky, I know. Spending time in nature is often inspirational and you may be tempted to snap a quick pic for the ‘gram but try and resist the urge. I love taking a notebook with me and spending time jotting down what I experienced after I’ve finished with my forest (well, in my case, city park) bathing. That way I can force myself to re-engage with my experience every time I revisit what I wrote. If you must take your phone with you because, well, life, set it to silent and try to forget about it. Forest bathing aside, unplugging for a few moments a day can be incredibly liberating.
  • Let your senses guide you. This isn’t a time for rigid map following or time checks. Wander. Pause every now and then to stop moving and close your eyes. What can you hear? What do you smell? Is the air crisp and cool or is it damp? Touch things. Take your shoes off and feel the grass between your toes. Place your hands on a tree trunk or in a stream. Really focus on what your senses are taking in. If you’re on a schedule and not with a group or a guide, I’d recommend setting an alarm of some kind so that you aren’t worried about losing track of time.
  • Be safe. I can’t stress this enough for any outdoor experience. You’ll be spending time meandering and focusing on sensations that you may not always be acutely aware of so it may be easy to lose your sense of place. Try to stick to marked trails and places that are familiar to you, especially if you are alone. Have the appropriate gear easily accessible to you, including clothing designed for the weather and your surroundings (more on this another time!). Be mindful and aware of animals that you might encounter. Buddy up, but try to keep the chatter to a bare minimum until the end of your walk.

As we find that our lives are continually being overtaken by screens and overscheduling, at Adventure East we’re deeply invested in finding ways to explore and enjoy the outdoors with mindfulness and intention. And, as always, we want to share that experience with as many people as possible. We highly suggest incorporating forest bathing into your life, even if it’s just once a week. Whether you join us for an experience or decide to head out alone, we’re certain that the practice will leave you feeling revitalized, relaxed, and rejuvenated.

Happy wandering!

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