As the famous explorer John Muir once wrote, “Wilderness is a necessity.” And, when it comes to managing anxiety and other stresses of the modern world, connecting with nature can be the best medicine.
In fact, according to The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, just 40 minutes of walking in a forest can visibly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the human body, essentially acting as a magical “reset button” during stressful times. And according to the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, just spending time in a green park can boost one’s wellbeing.
Now more than ever, we as a society should be looking into forest bathing as a legitimate form of self-care.
What Is Forest Bathing?
First developed as a healthcare strategy in 1980s Japan—where it is known as shinrin-yoku—forest bathing is the practice of meditatively walking in nature as a way to calm the mind.
Scientifically, it has yielded results such as reduced blood pressure, improved focus in children with ADHD, increased energy, reduced stress, and more. But forest bathing is more than simply cure-all stress remedy for us overworked humans. It has also proven to increase the immune system’s fighting power. According to a 2007 study, individuals experienced a 50 percent boost in the anatomical disease-fighting agents called “natural killer cells” after routinely taking two-hour walks in the forest. The study even revealed that forest bathing increased anti-cancer proteins in female subjects.
But, like most things, everyone’s experience with forest bathing is different. Some people are moved to express their grief and cry, while others slip into a child-like joy.
“Whatever their reaction, people walk away feeling, ‘That’s what I needed,” says Ben Page of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. “It’s a process of remembering and awakening to something we already knew. Our ancestors evolved with nature, and we have forgotten how to have that open relationship.”
Still, Page insists that this practice can be done anywhere nature is found. He has even conducted a “forest walk” inside of a senior care center, where he brought plants and other natural objects to a group of seniors who had varying health and mental ailments.
“People with advanced dementia were remembering things from their childhood,” Page said. “There was a real healing effect that took place. A 90-year-old who had severe dementia shared memories of being 10 years old and building a cabin in the wilderness with her dad. Her relationship with one pine cone that she was holding was bringing her all of this joy and memory.”
So, how can you start? Here are some easy tips to get you going.
7 Beginner Tips for Forest Therapy
1) Don’t overthink it. Don’t choose a strenuous or difficult-to-navigate trail. The key is relaxation and mindfulness.
2) Unplug and hit the “off” button. Technology will pull you away from your present surroundings.
3) Make your walks last two to four hours, in order to fully immerse yourself in nature and find calm.
4) Tune into your senses. What do you feel, smell, see or hear? Walk slowly to take it all in.
5) Say “Hello!” It may seem odd at first, but keep an open mind. Approach a tree, flower or any part of the wilderness that draws you in and introduce yourself. Spend some time next to your new friend, imagining a conversation, or simply reflecting on its beauty.
6) Find a place to sit for at least 20 minutes that’s isolated with minimum distractions. Take time to absorb and appreciate your surroundings; some forest bathers sing a song about, write or verbalize their appreciation for nature.
7) Read a forest bathing book. If you’re looking for a book that will help you really connect with nature, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness is a great place to start.