09 July 2018

Finding Health and Happiness with the Japanese Practice of Forest Bathing

Intro Copy


Modern life is stressful. Most of us live in noisy, nature-starved urban areas. We waste nearly an hour each day commuting, usually in traffic. And we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, breathing in toxic air and further detaching ourselves from nature. Stress is an overlooked health risk. Even though some stress is normal, long-term stress is linked to many chronic physical- and mental-health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, and anxiety. Fortunately, we can take some simple steps to help mitigate the maladies of modern life. The Japanese practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is an effective and easy way to help reduce stress, improve health, and find happiness. What is forest bathing? Forest bathing is a form of nature therapy. Developed in Japan in the early 1980s, forest bathing is an integral part of Japan’s national health program and is used as a preventative measure to promote long-term well-being. The concept is simple: reconnect with nature. Go to a forest. Open your senses. Absorb your surroundings. Begin to heal. That’s it. What are the benefits of forest bathing? Forest bathing was initially based on the intuition that being in nature is good for us. In recent years, however, forest bathing has been scientifically proven to boost both physical and mental health. According to Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, forest bathing
  • lowers stress;
  • reduces blood pressure;
  • lifts depression and anxiety;
  • improves sleep; and
  • promotes a stronger immune system.
What are the steps of forest bathing? Some people seek help from forest therapy guides, and there are many books that discuss forest bathing in detail. But forest bathing is about finding what’s right for you and your schedule. You should aim for at least two hours of forest bathing, though any amount of time spent reconnecting with nature is beneficial. Here are some basic guidelines, adapted from Dr. Li's book, to help get you started.
  1. Find a forest (or a tree). Finding a forest may not be easy, but you might be surprised at what’s nearby. I found a little-known 704-acre nature reserve just minutes away. Can’t find a forest? That’s okay. Find a tree instead. Even big cities have parks.
  2. Slow down. Shut off your phone. Then walk, don’t run. Better yet, wander. Take a seat. This isn’t a hike or a race. This isn’t exercise. Find peace and solitude.
  3. Open your senses. Absorb your surroundings. Listen to singing birds, fluttering leaves, and gurgling streams. Watch trees sway in the wind. Inhale woodsy scents. Taste the fresh air. Feel the bark of a tree.
  4. Wander. Go wherever you want. Is that pond appealing? Check it out. Is that rock interesting? Pick it up. Indulge your curiosity.
  5. Enjoy. Just be.

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