Benefits of Forest Bathing

Did you know that just being in the presence of trees has been proven to be beneficial for your health and wellbeing? Since 1982 the Japanese have been encouraging the public and especially office-bound workers to take a daily break from the office to walk or sit in a nearby green space, ideally with trees, such as natural forest or urban park, with the aim of boosting employee wellbeing, morale, concentration and ultimately productivity. The Japanese forest ministry coined the term Shirin-Yoku or ‘forest bathing’ as it is translated and promoted daily outside activity in nature for as little as 30 minutes per day.

Forest bathing has been scientifically studied and has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.

The research

Experiments on forest bathing conducted by the Centre for Environment, Health and Field Sciences in Japan’s Chiba University measured its physiological effects on 280 subjects in their early 20’s. The team measured the subjects’ salivary cortisol (which increases with stress), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability during a day in the city and compared those to the same biometrics taken during a day with a 30-minute forest visit. “Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” the study concluded.

In other words, being in nature made subjects, physiologically, calmer, more focussed and less reactive. The parasympathetic nervous system controls the body’s rest-and-digest system while the sympathetic nervous system governs fight-or-flight responses. Subjects were more rested and less inclined to stress after a time spent forest bathing.

Soothing the Psyche

Trees and nature filled landscapes soothe the psyche too. 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. “Accordingly,” the researchers wrote, “forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes.”

How to practice Forest Bathing

• Go solo rather than with someone who you will end up chatting to. If you do go together for safety, ensure you don’t spend most of the time talking.
• Take off your shoes and feel the earth under your feet
• Turn your mobile off, do not take photos or check your fitbit steps
• Make a conscious decision to leave your worries behind you at the start of the trail rather than going to ruminate on them as this will negate the benefits.
• Make sure you are somewhere safe where you have cellphone reception if you need to call anyone for help.
• Sit against a tree or at a view place, or meander along a trail slowly, focussing on being in the present, using your senses to take in everything around you.
• Don’t focus on achieving anything, rather see it as a time to practice mindfulness or receive the benefits of nature.
• Just be with trees, plants and the birds and insects that you encounter. No hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit.
• The aim is to relax in nature for 30 minutes or more
• Nature’s ultimate mysteries and wisdom is beyond our understanding so approach the forest as a living intelligence that may be greater than your understanding with just your senses alone.
• At the end, offer a prayer or gesture of gratitude to the forest or trees and pick up any litter you find on your way back as a thank you.