What Is Forest Bathing? Explore the Nature-Driven Mental Health Ritual

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woman sitting and practicing yoga in forest at sunset

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Many people are paying more attention to their mental health. One of the most popular practices today is forest bathing, which is touted for its impressive benefits. Learn what it is, its upsides and how you can do it — even without access to any open green space. 

What Is Forest Bathing?

The phrase comes from the Japanese expression “shinrin-yoku,” which is rooted in ancient cultures. Forest bathing gained steam in the 1980s through the influence of major religions that revered forests as the realms of the divine.

Japanese believe humans are emotionally, spiritually and physically connected with nature. They re-establish this special connection by immersing themselves in it. 

Today, people engage with nature in many ways, like hiking, running and swimming. These activities often involve physical activity.

Forest bathing is more straightforward and doesn’t involve any movement. It uses your senses to develop a heightened awareness of the natural beauty around you. 

How Is Forest Bathing Done?

young man sitting on a wooden bench and looking at the forest in the sunset
Photo by Luciano Dassiê on Pexels.com

Connecting with nature in this manner is simple. The first step is to find a green space. A forest is the best option but other natural areas like parks may do if you live in the city. Set an intention before starting, which is the most essential ingredient for a successful practice. 

Others may find the activity unproductive because of its simplicity. Forest bathing is meditative. If you’re not used to it, sitting in silence may be challenging. However, consistent practice can make it easier. 

Start by sitting in one place for 5-10 minutes, ensuring you’re comfortable. Begin by noticing your surroundings. Look at the trees, the leaves and the ground. Feel the sun’s warmth against your skin and the cool breeze on your face. Listen to the birds and smell the flowers. Submerge your senses in the present. Once you’ve found stillness, prepare for a gentle walk in the woods.  

Follow nature’s invitations to engage your senses, like smelling the flowers if they look inviting or touching the trees to feel their texture. As you do this more, you’ll soon feel the natural rhythm of life in the forest. 

After a while, find a spot to settle again and think about how your perspective has changed before and after the ritual. Consider how those few moments have made you more aware of your surroundings and feelings about nature and creation. Take the learnings with you as you end the practice. 

What Are the Benefits?

back view photo of a woman sitting on rocks overlooking the waterfalls
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

It’s no secret that being near green spaces has extraordinary health merits. Forest bathing benefits you in these four significant ways. 

1. Boosts Mental Well-Being

Scientists discovered that those who live in places deprived of green spaces are 44% and 33% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders and depression, respectively, than those surrounded by nature. 

People living in the city with an elevated risk for mental health conditions may benefit from moving to a rural area where they have more access to natural environments.

2. Improves Immune System

Forest trees and plants release phytoncides, a chemical that protects them from airborne insects. These volatile substances increase the activation of NK cells —  a type of white blood cell that fights inflammation — and intracellular anti-cancer molecules. 

They positively impact human health through reduced stress, cortisol levels, blood pressure and chronic fatigue, boosting immune system function without side effects.

3. Accelerates Recovery

Grounding yourself in nature can also shorten the recovery time from surgery or illness. In a review of 63 articles, researchers found that forest bathing has physiological and psychological benefits across all age groups. The practice may help increase energy and happiness levels, mitigate the inflammation response and boost sleep quality — all of which contribute to a faster healing process following a medical procedure or injury. 

4. Improves Overall Quality of Life

The amazing benefits of nature therapy on the body and mind lead to increased quality of life. Soaking yourself up in natural elements can cure technostress or the pressure associated with using technology. It relieves symptoms of anxiety, headaches, depression and eye and neck strain while minimizing the impulse to be always connected through screens. 

People are stuck on their screens for work and entertainment, sitting all day on couches or at office desks. Forest bathing rituals can minimize cognitive overstimulation and other negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. 

Can You Do Forest Bathing at Home?

green grass field
Photo by Anders Kristensen on Pexels.com

Yes — your backyard is an ideal setting for the practice. Even if you don’t have one, you can sit next to a plant or any living organism in your room. You can also sit near the window and look out at a tree or any natural things your eyes can reach. 

Start by being aware of your breath. Let go of the thinking mind and allow your senses to be tickled by nature.

Do you see any animals? Can you hear the sound they make? Do you smell something in the air?

Linger on these sensations and stay in the moment. Let nature guide your entire practice. Follow its cue if it tells you to connect to something else. Sit in silence for as long as you can.

Forest Bathing Elevates Physical and Mental Health

Many health experts swear by nature therapy as a complementary intervention in improving the body and mind. Forest bathing is one method to try if you want a natural way to elevate your quality of life by reducing stress and strengthening the immune system and mental well-being. 

You don’t need a forest to take part in this practice. If you live in the city, a vertical garden or a potted plant can be your medium for the ritual. The key to a successful practice is anchoring your senses in the present. 

What do you think? Leave a comment!