What is “Forest Bathing” and Why it is Healthy for You?

Did you ever notice that after you spend a day out in the woods you come home happier, and more refreshed and sleep better than usual?

In the 1980s the Japanese developed a term “Shinrin-yoku” to mean “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing” that has become the foundation of Japanese medicine and preventive health care.  The Japanese are not the only ones who recognize the cleansing and health benefits of walking in a forest, studies are now also being done in the United States and in Finland with similar results.

The scientifically-proven benefits of forest bathing:

  • Improved sleep
  • Boost in immune system functioning. The “Natural Killer” cells (a type of white cells) in the body increase in number.  This was determined thanks to blood and urine tests before after a 3 day/ 2-night stay in the forest.
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased energy level

The proof of health benefits using forest bathing modalities is so concrete that in Japan and Korea forest bathing is actually covered by insurance.

It is important to note that forest bathing is different than going on a “nature walk” or specifically going hiking.  While the nature walk may be focused on information regarding the flora and fauna and the hike is usually with a specific destination in mind, Shinrin-yoku is about walking leisurely and experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the forest, only those things that can be experienced when the focus is on moving very slowly and deliberately appreciating what is there.  There are organized groups starting in California now that take people on guided tours in the forests using group activities, mindful meditation and discussions among the participants of what they are experiencing.

Although there is not a substitute for going to the forest and taking a walk studies are now being done to look at the efficacy of house plants, flowers and essential oils, as well as, the healing power of merely looking at the woods through a hospital room window.

What has your experience been after spending a day in the woods?  Is forest bathing something that you feel that you have experienced even though you didn’t know that it was a formal practice?