The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. Without purpose or goal other than opening your senses. That’s right, no staring at your smartphone! Your brain and body are largely hard-wired to sync with the laws of nature. That’s why most people feel an intrinsic pull to it.
Bound to a screen 24/7 in buildings with climate control doesn’t do us any good. More and more people in cities experience high levels of stress, symptoms of depression and burnouts. One way to combat these issues is by simply spending more time in nature. Surrounded by trees, fresh air, dirt, animals and insects. When our senses get to take in nature like the sounds of a babbling brook, the grounding scent of earth in a forest or even the sight of a park in the middle of a city, it triggers many benefits within our bodies.
A Japanese study published in 2009 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and stress hormones.
The Japanese practice of forest bathing is also said to benefit physical and mental health because you inhale beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils (collectively known as phytoncide) and negatively charged ions via forest air.
A study on forest bathing’s psychological effects surveyed 498 healthy volunteers, twice in a forest and twice in control environments. The subjects showed significantly reduced hostility and depression scores, coupled with increased liveliness, after exposure to trees. Forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes according to the researchers. ‘Therapy trails’ can perhaps persuade more people to re-connect with nature.
Luckily, city dwellers can benefit from the effects of trees too, with a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels. Experts have recommended “doses of nature” as part of treatment of attention disorders in children.
So when was the last time you gave your senses some fresh natural input? If possible, spend time in nature daily. Take a daily walk or lunch in the park. And when time allows, immerse yourself fully in nature by taking a forest bath.