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Forest bathing and its Effects on the Human Mind and Body

Jacob Lips

Forest bathing is a classic idea practiced by people who want to seek solace in nature. Anne Frank said that being outside and being with nature is 'the best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy.' This is an important reminder, especially among people in the 21st century, who spend tons of time using their smartphones and gadgets.


The concept started in Japan with the Japanese spending mindful time in the woods, believing that this precious time is beneficial for one's body and soul. Now, the idea has spread in the West as preventive medicine for both physical and mental ailments. 


About 80% of Japan’s population lives in urban areas, and the average American now spends more than 90% of their time indoors. But we are hardwired to connect with nature, to “listen to the wind and taste the air,” Dr. Qing Li, a health expert and the author of Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing said in an interview.

Photo by Stijn VdStockt

Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, is spending time outdoors, connecting with nature. This is an opportunity for everybody to take time out, forget about the problems in life, disconnect with technology and rejuvenate amidst nature. Forest Bathing simply means, being immersed in nature and allowing oneself ‘bathe’ in its positive energy. 


Through social prescribing, the idea of forest bathing has spread like wildfire, with celebrities including the Dutch of Cambridge loving the activity thus, inspiring her to co-design a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. A series of forest bathing events is also prescribed by the Royal Society for the protection of birds. These activities are happening across England, as a highly endorsed practice to regain balance and manage the pressures of the modern world.


So what is a ‘proper’ forest bathing? What should one do to enjoy this practice? 


The overall underlying concept is to let go, and let nature take over one's stress and worries. And thus, it is important to be fully immersed in this activity without the distraction of cellphones, cameras, and other gadgets.


But first, one should find a safe spot, possibly with established trails or fences for safety at high altitudes. Once the perfect spot is located, one can start walking, slowly embracing the energy from the surroundings. Listening to the sounds of the environment will further enhance the experience. There should be no pressure of finishing a series of trails or getting in time to a destination, what matters is savoring the sensations freely, bestowed by the forest.


By being mindful, one is blending in with nature using all five senses. Smelling the fragrance of the forest is a form of natural aromatherapy, as one is smelling phytoncides that boosts the immune system. The presence of phytoncides is also linked with a lower risk of cancer. 


Of course, relaxation and how to achieve it differs from person to person. Thus, one should discover the perfect place to achieve the highest form of relaxation. Some people find the smell of damp soil relaxing, some may find refuge in the countryside that invokes precious childhood memories, or on the beach with the sound of the crashing waves. 

Photo by Joaquín Matos Morales

In recent years, forest bathing has been slightly modified to include a trained forest guide, who can help people find a more comfortable environment for them. There are also forest-therapy programs that have guided walks. In a specific forest, there is a station for doctors who will assist with the wellbeing of the participant. A physical health check and a psychological are one of the standard tests for this. After the exams, a therapist will then be assigned to advise the participant, regarding the best walking plan that one can take.


One can also take up activities that will offer relaxation inside the forest. Some of these activities include forest walking, yoga, eating in the forest, hot-spring therapy, T’ai chi, meditation among others.


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