A Beginner's Guide to Forest Bathing and How it Helps Reduce Stress

Many people find that spending time in nature does a world of good for their well-being, and more and more, science is backing up the claim. While parks, gardens, mountains, plains, beaches, and lakes are all worthy destinations that can be beneficial, there is something truly special about being in the forest. Enter the trend of “forest bathing,” a practice that began in earnest in Japan in the 1980s and has become increasingly popular over the last few years around the globe.

What is Forest Bathing?

Despite the name, you’re not actually taking a bath in the literal sense, like hiking to a stream or hot spring. Forest bathing is simply the idea and action of being in a forest, being present in your mind and body, and being open to absorbing the benefits and calming properties that spending time under a canopy of living trees can do for you. While the idea of walking through a forest is broad, “forest therapy” in its current iteration was developed in the 1980s in Japan. Known as shinrin-yoku, this is a preventative and therapeutic form of healthcare widely practiced. While there is a science behind forest bathing in the “western” sense—studies have shown living near trees can positively influence your health—the experience of mindfully walking through forests with the intention of restoration can improve your mental wellbeing in intangible ways as well.

What are the Benefits?

Forest bathing isn’t hiking—the idea is to focus on the experience rather than get from one place to another. Connor McSheffrey

Studies from Qing Li, Japan’s leading forest therapy researcher, have proven links between walking meditative and mindfully through forests and a reduction in stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies out of Japan say that spending time under the trees has a calming effect throughout the body, promoting positive changes in the nervous system. The studies say that the impact of the collection of trees can reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) and provide positive boosts to the immune system. Li says that forest bathing can go so far as to improve overall health, both in the mind and body. Participants in the studies see drops in blood pressure, improvements in mood, better sleep patterns, and an increased focus and outlook. Li’s book Forest Bathing provides an in-depth history, proven benefits, and best practices for forest therapy.

How do I do it?

One of the highlights of the forest bathing trend is how accessible and straightforward it is. You don’t need a good health insurance policy, you don’t need any special equipment, and you don’t need to take an extended journey to gain the benefits of forest therapy. Simply find a green space, whether it’s a bike path, a wooded section of a city park, or the forest on the edge of town. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, but access to wooded areas is rarely too far out of reach for easy access. Once you arrive at your location, set yourself up for taking in all of the benefits that spending time in nature has for you. There is no one way to participate in forest bathing, but you can take steps to improve your experience. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of this practice.

Forest bathing is about spending time alone without distractions to appreciate the natural world. Jon Flobrant

Leave your phone and other electronic distractions at home: In a world where we are rarely unplugged, this might be the most essential way to make sure you get the most from your time in nature. Even if you say you won’t check your phone, just knowing that it’s there can be distracting and provoke anxiety—whether it’s social, work, or both.

Lose the mindset that you’re there to exercise: Forest bathing isn’t a run, power walk, or mileage tracking outing. You don’t even need to set a route or a timeline. Instead of being goal-oriented in the achievement sense, aim to stop every so often to take stock of your surroundings. Staying slow and quiet is so immensely different from the way that most of us live, that pausing to put your hand against the bark of a tree or paying attention to the motion of stepping over a rock can be grounding. Take your time, and maybe even relax in a hammock, like the Mock ONE from Republic of Durable Goods. Forget about straps and finding two perfectly spaced trees with this one, as it has everything you need—frame and all—to enjoy a relaxing time in the forest. Yet it’s completely portable, fitting in a small carrying bag.

Allow your mind to go where it wants, then bring it back: Set yourself up with the goal of a quiet mind, but don’t berate yourself if it wanders to a to-do list, plans for dinner, or other day-to-day concerns. If you feel your mind wander, acknowledge those thoughts, then return to a grounding physicality, like focusing on your breath. Once you’ve returned to the present, come back to your intentions of being present in the moment under the trees. The calming of the mind will eventually be self-perpetuating, and the positive reactions will reinforce that mindset and allow you to return more easily to the place of serenity and appreciation each time.

Ready to give it a try? You don’t need any special equipment, membership fees, or guides to get started. And even if you decide it’s not for you, what’s the worst thing you can say about it—you got to spend some uninterrupted time in the outdoors. That’s reason enough to consider forest bathing at least once.

Written by Matcha for Republic of Durable Goods and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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