The Health Benefits of Bathing in Nature (Shinrin-Yoku)
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, doesn’t require a bathing suit, although you might want to wear one because it’s great to include some water, such as a waterfall or a dip in a lake, as part of your forest bath. And forest bathing is not an epic trek through Patagonia or a calorie-burning ten-mile run. It’s also not led by a park ranger, and no maps are involved. There will be no compasses or hiking poles.
So, what exactly is forest bathing? Forest bathing is the practice of intentionally connecting to Nature as a way to heal. Part mindfulness, part child’s play, it’s a portal into true understanding of yourself and the world around you. Considered as a form of nature therapy, forest bathing is an embodied love note to Mother Earth and an evidence-based intervention to combat the life-threatening diseases that are associated with modern life.
If you’ve ever taken a walk in the woods à la Henry David Thoreau, you may be aware of the benefits of being outdoors. You breathe easier. The thoughts racing through your head slow down and magically begin to reprioritize themselves—the stuff that doesn’t matter begins to fade away. If you’re with friends, the conversations may go deeper. You may talk about dreams, intentions, desires, and manifestations. This is your soul talking. It’s always talking, but usually we are so stuck in our minds that we don’t take the time to really listen.
Being in the forest deliberately activates you. John Muir, who was unknowingly involved in forest bathing research for most of his life, said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” Forest bathing encourages you to hug trees, feel moss, pick up leaves, taste raspberries, and listen to your deep truths. It’s about awakening all your senses, tapping into your wildness, and luxuriating among the trees. A forest bath cleanses your soul and allows you to find yourself soaking in nature.
The History of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is based on the Japanese term shinrin-yoku (森 林 浴), which was coined by Tomohide Akiyama of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, in part as a way beyond logging to garner value from the forest. In Japanese, the term comprises three kanji characters—the first character is composed of three trees and means “forest,” the second character is two trees and refers to the interconnectedness of the forest, and the third character connotes the luxury of being fully engulfed in the abundance that surrounds you.
The essence of shinrin-yoku, however, goes back a lot further than when the term was coined. As evidenced in haiku poems about nature and with the concept of wabi-sabi—the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete—much of traditional Japanese culture is based on a deep understanding of and connection to Nature. Ikebana, the Japanese art of arranging flowers, for example, dates back to the sixth century; it focuses on a personal and direct relationship with nature. According to one of Japan’s most influential modern ikeba practitioners, artist Toshiro Kawase, ikebana helps one realize that “the whole universe is contained within a single flower.”