In the 1980’s, the term Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, was first introduced by the Forest Agency of the Japanese Government. Acknowledging the healing properties of being in nature, they encouraged citizens to recharge their health by visiting the many green spaces and publicly owned forests available.
Since then, forest bathing has become quite popular and well known — and has been adopted by cultures around the world. It’s easy to do: all that's required is a forest, time, and patience. Simply head to a forested area and take it all in. Keep in mind, the more natural the setting the better, as it will offer up more for your senses.
"Nature itself is the best physician." Hippocrates
From towering evergreens to meandering streams, nature is there for us to lean on—we just have to remember how. We evolved with trees and have benefited from their food, medicine, shade, and shelter from the beginning.
But with the industrial revolution and the modernization that came with it, we've moved away from nature and have disconnected from the sights, sounds, and sense of peace that it offers — except for the occasional vacation or visit to a park. As a society, we have paved over wetlands, sealed our homes up tight against the elements, and limited our direct contact with the soil and textures of the natural world.
But while we’ve been busy laying down roads and building up cities, nature has stayed busy, too, weaving together the threads of life, the web upon which we all depend.
We aren’t meant to sit inside in front of screens all day, eat processed foods, or only get our nature from the walk between the car and the front door. We're meant to "live in the sunshine, swim the sea, and drink the wild air," as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. And the extraordinary brain that allowed us to build our skyscrapers and superhighways, knows it. Indeed, this alienation from nature is at the root of many of our "modern" health conditions.
That's where Shinrin Yoku, or the practice of “walking slowly through the woods, in no hurry, for a morning, an afternoon, or a day,” can help guide us back to balance. Coined in 1982 by Tomohide Akiyama, Director of the Japanese Forestry Agency, Forest Bathing is an age old practice that has, thankfully, experienced a comeback in the last 40 years.
Forest bathing is all about renewing our connection to the forest and, therefore, to ourselves.
Humans evolved with trees and the chlorophyll that they produce is nearly identical to the hemoglobin in our blood (the atomic structure of hemoglobin is built around iron molecules, while chlorophyll is built around magnesium).
Studies have shown that when we’re exposed to nature, even for just a short time, our parasympathetic nervous system gradually takes control, lowering our blood pressure, pulse rate, inflammation, and cortisol levels, elevating our moods, and activating cancer fighting natural killer (NK) cells. As a result, we can experience increased vigor and decreased depression, anxiety, fatigue, and mental fog. And those that are lucky enough to live near evergreen forests benefit from the high concentrations of phytoncides—or, airborne essential oils—that they release. These “showers” are part of the tree’s own medicine and provide powerful stress relief and a natural immunity boost that can last for weeks. Simply put: forests help us stay happy, relaxed, and well.
Ready to start forest bathing?
Head to the forest nearest to you, stow away your phone, and open up your senses. Close your eyes and listen to the trees swaying and creaking in the wind. Feel that same wind moving over and through you. Listen for the birds. Open your eyes and scan your surroundings, taking in colors, patterns, the interplay of light and shadow. Reach out and touch the trunk of a tree, feeling the bumps, the grooves, the bark beneath your fingers. Breathe deeply and smell the green understory plants, the sharp twang of evergreen, the sweetness of the soil. Pinch off a fresh pine needle (which contains antioxidants and vitamin C) and place it on your tongue, tasting the forest. If you feel comfortable, remove your shoes and feel the solid earth beneath your feet. Does everything look different now?
Can’t get to a forest? That’s alright: there are other ways to connect with nature, like keeping plants in your home and workplace, taking the scenic route as often as possible, eating your lunch outside, or planting a garden. You can even play the soothing sounds of the forest from any device, close your eyes, and transport yourself.
And if you're looking for a way to help ensure that there are trees for healthy forest bathing for many years to come, plant a tree with us!
We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?
by Meaghan Weeden