What Is Forest Bathing? A Guide to the Peaceful Practice

Published August 17, 2022
person forest bathing

Have you ever noticed that you feel better when you open your windows and take a breath of fresh air? Or that you feel happier when you take a walk around the park? Many people do. It's because being exposed to nature and green spaces are actually good for you.

Many people have taken to social media platforms to document themselves hiking, laying in meadows, and swapping city vacations for camping retreats. It's all a part of the practice of forest bathing. So lace up your hiking boots. It might be time for you to hit the good old outdoors and experience some nature therapy.

What Is Forest Bathing?

Forest bathing is the practice of immersing yourself in nature. It can be done in a national park, a local green space, or even in the garden in your backyard.

In addition, it involves an aspect of mindfulness. Forest bathing requires participants to engage all five senses during their nature immersion experience. This allows people to be fully present and appreciative of the natural resources that are around them.

The Origins of Forest Bathing

Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-Yoku, arose in Japan in the 1980s. The term is a translation of the Japanese words 'shinrin' meaning forest and 'yoku' meaning bath. It was officially coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.

Forest bathing has played an important role in preventative healthcare and healing practices in Japanese medicine since the practice began. Today it has spread to western cultures inspired by the natural healing practice.

Many consider it to be a form of nature therapy since it has restorative health effects. It offers a unique way to experience nature by encouraging people to fully take in the atmosphere through all of their senses.

How to Practice Forest Bathing

How does someone actually bathe in the forest and start this relaxation practice? The good thing is that you can start one in just three simple steps. It all starts with getting into nature and finding a meaningful connection.

Step 1: Immerse Yourself in Nature

The first step in practicing forest bathing is to surround yourself with nature. Head to a forest, park, or another natural area that you have access to. You can even start by adding more plants and greenery inside your house to bring the healing power of nature indoors.

Getting out into green spaces and away from urban areas has been found to have health benefits in and of itself. One study from the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives found that areas with higher levels of green vegetation had decreased rates of mortality compared to areas where nature was sparse.

Researchers believe that this may be because nature areas often provide more open space for physical activity and can reduce the amount of exposure to harmful elements that can be found in urban areas, such as air pollution. In addition, green spaces often provide people the opportunity to participate in social engagement and make meaningful connections.

Step 2: Engage Your Senses

person meditating in forest

After you have accessed a green space, let your senses take over and explore the nature around you. Think of ways that you can engage all five senses.

  • Hearing -Listen to the birds chirping in the trees or the sounds of a nearby steam.
  • Sight - Sit back and take in the beauty of nature. Notice the insects and animals in the area. Admire the height of the trees or the colors of the plants.
  • Smell -Take a deep breath and smell the scent of the trees around you. Enjoy the feelings of fresh air. Take time to actually stop and smell the flowers.
  • Touch - Lay in the grass and feel the ground against your body. Run your hands through the plants and feel the texture on your fingers.
  • Taste - Feel the fragrance of the air or a flower in the back of your throat. Explore the area for nuts or berries that are safe to eat. Or, if you aren't a wilderness expert, snack on some trail mix you brought with you.

Step 3: Be Present

Most importantly, take your time. Allow nature to nourish you and give yourself the permission to unwind and relax. Try and stay off of your electronics for a while and just be present.

Simply take a walk in nature and notice what it has to offer. Try a yoga flow or sit in the grass and meditate for a few minutes. After you have followed these steps, you will have taken your first forest bath.

Health Benefits of Forest Bathing

There's something about nature that seems to be healing in more ways than one. According to a systematic review and analysis from the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, forest bathing has been found to have many health benefits.

The review included 497 studies that explored both the physical and mental health benefits of forest bathing. The analysis found that studies showed significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety, as well as feelings of stress and anger in participants that engaged in forest bathing. In addition, the analysis showed that forest bathing had the most significant impact on relieving symptoms of anxiety in particular.

Many of the studies that were included in the analysis only measured the short-term effects of forest bathing. For this reason, the review calls for more long-term research on the health benefits to be conducted.

Some additional benefits of forest bathing found in the review include:

  • Boosts cardiovascular health, such as reducing hypertension or risk of coronary artery disease
  • Decreased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
  • Improves respiratory system (allergies and respiratory disease);
  • Increases feelings of gratitude
  • Increases immune system function
  • Promotes mental relaxation
  • Promotes stress relief

In addition, the mindfulness aspect of forest bathing makes it a particularly effective relaxation tool. Research shows that when a person engages all five senses, it can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and send the body into a state of relaxation.

Tips to Practice Forest Bathing

Wondering how you can start forest bathing? You can look to these tips to give you ideas on how to get started.

Some people may have opportunities to practice forest bathing in large natural spaces or have easy access to a national park. These are great places to practice forest bathing. However, not everyone lives right around the corner from Yosemite.

Find a green space that works for you. No matter how small. What's most important is that you allow yourself to enjoy it fully. Many people recommend that you walk or experience nature for about 2-4 hours in order to feel the full benefits of forest bathing.

Don't Worry if You're Doing It Right

When you get out there into your nature area, you might feel like you don't know what you're doing. Or as if you're waiting for some divine sense of inspiration or realization to rain down upon you.

Some people may have enlightening experiences when they practice forest bathing. However, that's not always the case. Sometimes it really is as simple as closing your eyes and resting in the grass. Don't feel like you have to do something in particular or learn something new in order to benefit.

If you're being present and taking in nature with your senses, you're doing it right.

Allow Yourself to Explore

person exploring forest

One of the best things about nature is that there's so much to explore. There are lakes, meadows, and trails filled with opportunities to engage your senses. Allow yourself to explore these areas.

If you decide to take a walk through nature, and stumble upon a perfect sitting rock near a tree, go ahead and sit down. You don't have to stick to any plans that you decided upon beforehand. In fact, you don't even have to walk through nature to experience forest bathing. You can sit, stand, lay down, or however else you want to interact with the world around you.

You might have thoughts that you should be walking towards something in particular, or that the goal is to complete the nature trail. However, that's not always the point. You can walk in circles if you want to. Explore whatever you want at the moment with your senses.

Try Virtual Forest Bathing

Do you not have access to a green space? Or want to explore larger natural areas without having to drive several hours? Try a virtual forest bathing session.

In-person forest bathing experiences are likely to have more benefits than virtual experiences. However, don't pass up virtual experiences just yet. Research shows that virtual forest bathing still has the ability the reduce stress, just to a lower degree.

Many organizations offer virtual forest bathing sessions that people can experience from the comfort of their own homes. They are group sessions that are led by virtual guides walking through nature. Watch the nature walk from your garden, local park, or even just in front of your window to increase your experience. Some organizations that offer virtual forest bathing are:

  • Forest Bathing International - Provides participants the opportunity to join virtual forest bathing sessions in a group setting.
  • Forestry England - Offers videos of nature exploration and hikes, as well as photo galleries for people to explore.
  • Quiet Parks International - For a fee of $12, participants experience a virtual nature walk led by Liz Dawes. The experience lasts for an hour and a half and explores the woodland area of the Broughton Hall Estate in the Yorkshire Dales.
  • The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) - Has the option of remotely-guided forest walks, as well as in-person opportunities, led by ANFT-certified forest therapy guides.

Forest Bathing Resources

If you want to know more about forest bathing you're in luck. There are several books and online resources with more information to get you started. Whether you're looking for more tips, research, or virtual opportunities, there's something for you.

Books on Forest Bathing

It's never a bad idea to hit the books when you're interested in learning more about a topic. Explore this selection of books on forest bathing to learn more about people's experiences with the practice, and how to make the most of your time in nature.

Online Forest Bathing Resources

You can also learn more about forest bathing through virtual resources. Check out interviews with experts in the field, explore more online nature galleries to practice forest bathing from home, or check out form free videos of nature walks.

If you're a nature fanatic, then the odds are that forest bathing might be for you. However, you don't have to trek into the wilderness to experience the health benefits. Utilize whatever green spaces you have available. And, if options are limited, opt for a virtual experience. You might just find that you'd rather swap your self-care bubble baths with forest baths instead.

What Is Forest Bathing? A Guide to the Peaceful Practice