Whether you are seeking a nature-filled mindfulness practice, or just looking to untether from your devices for a while, Forest Bathing may be the perfect activity to add to your weekend docket (no swimsuit required!)
What is Forest Bathing?
The idea of Forest Bathing originates from a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku. “Shinrin” means “forest” and “yoku” means “bath,” but it’s not as literal as you might guess. The phrase metaphorically translates to “bathing in the forest atmosphere,” or walking slowly through nature and connecting with the natural environment through your five senses.
The practice is different from hiking or exercising, and more closely resembles meditation. It requires a slow and deliberate pace because “exercise increases heart rate, and adrenaline introduces a stress hormone.” Therefore, the stress-reducing benefits of Forest Bathing deteriorate as your pace increases.
How Do You Do It?
- Locate a forest, wooded area, or lightly trafficked area immersed in nature.
- Turn off your devices or, better yet, leave them at home. The goal is to be uninhibited from fully experiencing what is happening around you.
- Slow your movement to a mindful pace - notice the feelings and sounds created by each step forward.
- Turn to your breathing, taking deep breaths into your abdomen. If you can, try box breathing - a four count inhalation, a four count hold at the top of the breath, a four count exhalation, and a four count hold at the bottom of the breath. (Fun fact: The Special Forces are taught to use box breathing or four square breathing to help control their thoughts and emotions when faced with challenging situations.)
- Turn your awareness to your eyes, ears, and nose - do you see or hear wildlife? What do you smell?
- As you continue walking slowly and breathing deeply, try noticing the smallest details in nature. Look closely at the trees, leaves, animals, or the forest floor.
- Stay in the moment for as long as possible. Two hours is the recommended time for the full Forest Bathing experience.
Why Forest Bathe?
A variety of studies conducted by Japanese scientists have proven the effectiveness of Forest Bathing as a method of stress reduction. According to the study, “the forest bathing program significantly reduced pulse rate… and decreased the scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion.” A small Japanese study conducted in 2009 suggested a positive correlation between inhaling tree-derived compounds (phytoncides) and the decrease in stress hormone concentration in men and women, as well as enhanced white-blood cell activity.
The Environmental Protection Agency found that the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors - devastating thought, right? This new age of indoor living causes a disruption in the Human-Nature connection. By opening our senses during Forest Bathing, we are able to bridge the gap between ourselves and the natural world around us.
Want to learn other ways of practicing mindfulness in the great outdoors? Check out the "Mindfulness in the Outdoors" blog written by mindfulness student, Marcy Laufer here.
Stuck inside and want to bring nature to you? Learn how architects are turning our indoor spaces into nature-filled oases as a method of connecting humans back to nature.