Even if you don’t consider yourself an ‘outdoorsy’ person, it’s hard to deny that being immersed in nature feels damn good. Maybe it’s the clean, fresh air, the smell of fresh pine or the fact that it kind of forces you to get off your phone—either way, it definitely works wonders for keeping our stress levels in check. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Japanese professor and author, Yoshifumi Miyazaki. For decades, he’s been investigating the impact of forest bathing (otherwise known as shinrin-yoku) on our mental and overall wellbeing. And let us tell you, there’s more than a few benefits.
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The way Japanese forest bathing works is simple. You don’t have to travel to Japan (although, it would be a good excuse!), nor do you have to get naked as though you’re having a bath. It’s simply about eliminating any distractions, finding a spot where you’ll be surrounded by trees (ie. bushland or a national park) and going for a gentle stroll. Professor Miyazaki encourages being present in your environment by focusing on sounds, smells and temperatures and paying attention to the sensations of your body as you move through the space. So essentially, it’s a type of mindfulness, but in the presence of trees.
Since he started researching the effects of forest bathing in 1992, Professional Miyazaki has found that subjects “experienced lower blood pressure, increases in parasympathetic nerve activity (known to increase during relaxation) and a calming of prefrontal brain activity.” All of these things lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety. Another study into forest bathing’s psychological effects surveyed 498 healthy volunteers in both a forest and control environment. The subjects showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, coupled with increased liveliness, after forest bathing. Further research from Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, have also found that being exposed to the various essential oils (generally called phytoncide) found in plants and wood can actually improve your immune system.
So, it’s safe to say that Japanese forest bathing is something that’s definitely worth adding to your weekly routine. However, Gregg Berman, a registered nurse, wilderness expert, and certified forest bathing guide in California, warns against making it yet another thing you have to accomplish, AKA it’s meant to be relaxing stroll, not a vigorous hike where you bring your Fitbit along to measure your effort. His advice? “Don’t effort.” We like the sound of that!