As you step into the forest, you feel an ethereal sense of calm and mystery. Your breath deepens intuitively at the abundance of fresh air. The hysteria of the world disappears as your attention dissipates into its most natural state. In short, nature puts you in a different place, in not only a physical sense, but also a mental sense. This visceral relaxing effect is where the idea of forest bathing came from.
Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a practice that dates back to 1980s Japan. The social program was meant to promote the therapeutic benefits of the nation’s forest land. The concept translates into immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere, (fully clothed, in case you were wondering). The purpose is to visit and appreciate the forest and disconnect from the manmade world.
Studies of the practice over the last few decades have unearthed some unexpected benefits. We have compiled our favorites below.
In a traditional forest bathing session, you’re invited to slow down and take in your surroundings with focused attention. You’re encouraged to pay attention to nature through each of your senses and breathe deeply.
As you can tell, mindfulness is ingrained in the practice of forest bathing. With forest bathing though, you get to experience a living mindfulness, with your eyes open instead of closed.
“Nature brings out the body’s most natural state, at a cellular level.”
Breathing in the forest air can also benefit your immune system. Phytoncides, essential oils emitted by trees, increase the activity of natural killer cells in the body. Natural killer cells fight off pathogens, like cancer cells, that make you sick.
Touching grounded objects, such as trees, leaves, grass, or soil with your bare skin puts your body in a grounded state as well. Just like when you ground a can of gasoline, you ground your body’s electrical system. A buildup of positive ions, or static, can cause an explosion with your gas can or wreak havoc in your body.
Finally, forest bathing provides a brief reprieve from the demands of our hyper-focused culture. When you go into the forest, leave your phone behind, and focus on the present moment, those outside sources of attention fade into the background.
You don’t have to take an extended escape to an exotic location to get these benefits either. Simply sitting under a tree on a daily basis can provide free health benefits.