Spoiler alert: There’s no bathing involved. However, clothing is optional.
Happy Earth Day! I figured today of all days it would be fun to focus on something natural. I recently wrote about the benefits of the astronaut overview effect from space — this post on forest bathing takes us back down to the benefits found on the surface of Earth.
Have you seen “forest bathing” in headlines over the last few months? It seems everyone has written about it lately — NPR¹ wrote about it earlier this month (and again last year²), Inhabitat³, National Geographic4, The New Yorker5, The Atlantic6, and mindbodygreen7. No surprise that MOTHER EARTH NEWS8 and Outside Online9 wrote about it years earlier.
Two forest bathing books were also just released this month. The first one below is the #1 new release in Spiritualism on Amazon:
What is forest bathing (also known as nature therapy or shinrin-yoku)?
“Forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere” are translations of the Japanese term shinrin-yoku.
According to shinrin-yoku.org10:
“It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.”
The Japanese are ahead of the game once again. I recently wrote about the Japanese purpose or “reason for being” called Ikigai. And, Okinawa, Japan is one of the five Blue Zones on Earth where people consistently live to be older than 100 years old.
Why all the forest bathing hype?
Think about modern life in developed countries. We spend the vast majority of our time indoors. And in recent years, people have done the opposite of forest bathing—migrating to urban concrete jungles (also known as cities).
An EPA study found that Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors…We are, after all, animals, and it’s hard to forget that, even if some try real hard, surrounding themselves with walls, metal, glass, and screens. Those people tend to pay a price, often with their health and quality of life. — NPR¹
John Muir was ahead of his time when he realized the tension in the 1800s:
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. ― John Muir
And people today like Ben Page11, a certified forest therapy guide who founded Shinrin Yoku Los Angeles, believes forest bathing may be the next yoga:
I think about where yoga was 30 years ago and where it is today, and I realize that forest therapy is making the same journey toward cultural definition in a way that will mainstream the practice.
A Shinrin-yoku walk’s objective is to give participants an opportunity to slow down, appreciate things that can only be seen or heard when one is moving slowly, and take a break from the stress of their daily lives.
What are the forest bathing health benefits?
There’s a curated collection of journalism and research on forest bathing on NatureAndForestTherapy.org12. I haven’t read through all of these documents to check the legitimacy of the research and sources. Why? Because I’m already on board with the belief that spending time in nature is good for us. And, I believe that it probably does a lot of the things that forest bathing advocates claim, including:
- Stress (and a bunch of the things stress causes)
- Blood pressure
- Immune system functioning
- Mood and sense of happiness
- Ability to focus and clearer intuition
- Recovery from surgery or illness
- Energy levels and flow of energy
There are even forest bathing camps and clubs. Meditation retreats (which commonly include nature walks or spending time in nature) are also listed in my slow living challenges. Apparently by next year, there will be “450 certified forest bathing guides across 23 countries around the world”³.
If this post piqued your interest and you’re looking for even more reading on this topic, here are a few other highly rated/reviewed books. In the debate of experiences vs. things, forest bathing is often a free option with life-changing benefits. Well, what are you waiting for? See you outside!
Also published on Medium.