Forest Bathing: How spending time in nature reduces stress

This week’s blog post is written by Nick S., a Drummers alumni and monthly blog correspondent.  He talks about a tradition, originating in Japan, that involves getting out and into nature and how it can be good for your body and mind!  There are no specific rules, just your own pace and your own enjoyment of the outdoors.

Nick S.

Forest bathing, otherwise known as Shinrin Yoku, originated in Japan in the 1980s. The goal is simple: briefly reconnect people with nature in the simplest way possible. It involves going to the woods, feeling at peace, and immersing yourself entirely in nature.

A trail through the Rocky Mountains

While this sounds like a hike or a walk in the woods, that’s not entirely accurate. Forest bathing should not be strenuous, it should be calming. With a guide or on your own, walk slowly through the woods, tuning in to your senses. Focus on your surroundings, maybe notice the terrain shift under you as you walk or the sweet fragrance of the trees or flowers, or stop to admire a stunning flower or butterfly. Take time to notice the forest from different angles, to hone in and revel in the lush scenery. Essentially forest bathing acts like a mobile meditation of sorts, exercising the mind rather than the body. The end result being tranquility, a sense of peace rather than the emotions vying for your attention before the experience. There are no rules set in stone however, the idea is simply to disconnect from your emotions and daily life.

Forest bathing has a multitude of health effects including reduced blood pressure, accelerated recovery from illness or surgery, and improved immune system function. Studies have shown that forest bathing also boasts psychological effects. Being in nature made subjects more rested, less anxious and stressed, and less depressed. Most positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.

A path through Fort Indiantown Gap

Acres of forest and miles of trails aren’t necessary though. City dwellers can benefit from the same effects in a park. Brief exposure to trees and greenery in a park in an urban environment helps relieve stress and doctors have recommended “doses of nature” as treatment for attention disorders in children. Evidence has shown that a ton of contact isn’t necessary, instead brief exposure and regular contact seems to have the best effect on health and well-being.

In our ever connected, digital world, it is more important now than ever to get outside and unplug. Perhaps forest bathing is providing that necessary nudge to get back out there.