Even in a global pandemic, summer seems to just fly right on by. And if you haven’t made time for some good old-fashioned outdoors, now is the perfect time to take up the practice of forest bathing.
What is forest bathing?
If you’re picturing a tub filled with moss and mushrooms, no, that’s not it.
Okay, maybe a little bit.
In short, forest bathing is spending time in forests. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, which means the mental and physical healing from time spent in forests. It’s more than a quick hike through the park. It’s a mindful experience. Think of that Snow White meme where she’s surrounded by forest creatures and appears in perfect harmony with it all.
It’s a little bit about forgetting where you’re going, getting lost in the moment (not lost on the trail). It’s a bit like getting into a “zone,” for those who’ve had that deep concentration experience with work, sports, or even sex.
You don’t have to do anything fancy. You don’t even need to walk very far. This isn’t a transcontinental hike. It’s getting just deep enough into a forest so that you feel fully immersed in its true essence.
If it’s something you’re not sure about, there are guides who lead forest bathing experiences. But it’s something you can easily do on your own, even if you’ve historically not been a nature person.
Benefits of forest bathing
The Japanese have used forest bathing to help battle depression. Japan has some of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Forest bathing is a meditation in motion and can pretty quickly change a mood. (If you are battling depression or feel suicidal, though, please contact your primary care physician or call a suicide hotline immediately.)
Forest bathing has been shown to reduce cortisol (stress) levels, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and boost concentration.
It can also open you up to senses you didn’t realize you had. It can tune you in to your inner world and the external one all at the same time.
Studies have also shown that children who have more exposure to nature are less likely to develop allergies and conditions like ADD than their peers who did not.
There is more oxygen in a forest, too, and this may provide more clarity and focus.
How to forest bathe
Ready to get started? It’s simple, really: find a forest. Go there. Observe it. Remind yourself that you’re not separate from nature—you are nature. Even though you may feel like the odd (wo)man out among the squirrels, pine trees, and hummingbirds, you’re really not.
But maybe put down your phone for a bit. It’s tempting to want to ‘Gram it all, but try not to. If you must, take photos now but wait to share them later. Believe it or not, sometimes the experience itself really is more powerful than trying to capture the moment. Photos don’t always do nature justice (unless you’re a pro), and if you really need to share a photo of a forest, it doesn’t have to be your photo! Wait until the experience is over then find a high-quality stock image or share one from a professional nature photographer you love (with credit of course) and tell your story along with it.
Stop talking. Stop thinking. Just breathe. When was the last time you did that? It doesn’t have to be a woo-woo moment, unless you want it to be. Just let yourself be as much a part of the forest as everything else in there.
Look down. Look up. Notice the many shades of green and brown all around you. What catches your eye? What are you drawn to? Birds? Flora? Rocks? What is it about these elements that you are most drawn to? Why do you think that is? Does this experience remind you of something else?
What do you hear? The wind? The birds? Is there water nearby?
What do you smell? Is the forest full of pine and cedar? What about flowers? Can you smell the rich soil beneath your feet?
Touch things. But not too much; better to leave the forest just as you found it.
How do you feel? What time of day is it? Are you more relaxed? More energized? Do you feel more at peace?
As you come away from your experience, make some time later in your day to reflect on the forest bathing. Ask yourself how you felt then and compare to how you felt before and after the experience. Then, ask yourself when you’ll do it again.
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Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.