It may sound a little daft, even poetic, to the uninitiated, but ‘forest bathing’ simply means spending time in nature, particularly in forested areas, for the purpose of mental and physical wellbeing.
Known as shinrin yoku in Japan, forest bathing is considered a powerful healing medicine for those afflicted with common lifestyle-led conditions of modern living, such as chronic stress, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. And people worldwide are now realising, too, the power of switching off and heading into the forests.
Due to the rise in mental health awareness and the increasing popularity of rewilding, forest bathing is becoming something of a health trend. Forest bathing can be as simple as enjoying tech-free time under the trees, or can incorporate mindfulness and meditation practices such as silent meditation, mindful walks, breathwork, and some good old tree hugging and climbing!
The Evidence Based Health Benefits of Nature
It’s not all hippy domain! Scientifically, there’s much evidence based research into the multitudinous benefits of not only getting outside, but into the benefits of forest bathing in particular.
Scientists now believe that our ancestors spent a whopping 4 million years living at one with nature in forests and woodlands. That’s a lot longer than the 300 years we have spent living in anything even closely resembling our modern urban environments, to which we haven’t yet fully adapted. We are now so far removed from nature – wearing shoes and clothes, bathing in EMF and blue light, and spending 90% of our time indoors, that our lifestyles bare little resemblance to our previously natural ones. And this may be having negative implications on our health.
It’s little wonder, then, that nature and the wilderness make us feel so alive! We can find primal, innate connection when we return to the forests, kick off our shoes, inhale the fresh air and wrap our arms around a few trees! And it does wonders for our physical and mental health.
Studies show that regularly spending time in the company of trees helps lower stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and can even help prevent and manage mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. The body’s natural killer cell activity—which influences the efficient functioning of our immune systems—has also been recorded as increasing by as much as 53 percent in two days spent in forests in Japan.
Grounding, or ‘earthing’—which means having skin contact with the electrons on the Earth’s surface— has been Scientifically shown to reduce cortisol levels, regulate the circadian rhythm, reduce pain, lower inflammation, thin the blood, and illicit a shift in the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic state. It is also a therapeutic way of eliminating ambient voltage from our bodies that accumulates through indoor EMFs and excessive tech use. Something we are sure we could all do with!
In fact, forest bathing has been shown to be such a revolutionary lifestyle medicine that in 2006, the Forest Therapy Society began to officially register rural areas in Japan that have proven to have a positive physiological effect on people’s health.
Come Forest Bathing in Japan
On our Japan Jivamukti yoga retreat, we make full use of the therapeutic, calming benefits of shinrin yoku to add an entirely different dimension of relaxation and rejuvenation to your retreat experience. As soon as you step foot into the world of the mystical Japanese forests, you can literally feel the grounding sense of calm rise in your body and every one of your senses switch on.
Forest bathing is the perfect addition to the relaxation and mindfulness activities you will enjoy on retreat, which include onsen thermal hot springs, flower meditation, visits to temples, and Jivamukti yoga. Read about our last forest bathing retreat.
Far from the exhilarating, adrenaline raising adventure activities we get stuck into on many of our retreats, forest bathing involves minimal physical exertion. Rather, it is a simply a calming romp amongst the trees to reconnect with your wilder side.
Allow your eyes to adjust to the subtle undulations in light, inhale the scent of the earth and towering trees around you, soak in the vibrant hues of the flora, fill your lungs with air fresher and more fragrant than you knew existed, feel the soft bed of the forest floor under your bare feet, notice your heart rate slow, enjoy the uplifting touch of the breeze on your skin, and feel your worries and stresses evaporate.