While some consider forest bathing a passing fad, others view it as a powerful way to reduce stress and connect with Mother Nature. Should you add the practice to your outdoor activities? Here's what you should know about the compelling benefits of forest bathing.
The literal translation of the Japanese practice of "Shinrin-Yoku," forest bathing is a form of nature therapy. Unlike hiking, backpacking or mountain biking, however, the practice involves merely being present in nature. While they bask in nature's therapeutic beauty, forest bathers focus on connecting through the senses of hearing, sight, smell, touch and even taste.
The popularity of forest bathing has been rising in America over the past several years, due in part to the stress and anxiety that comes with urbanization. According to research sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends more than 90 percent of his or her time indoors. Through forest bathing, people are able to disconnect from the modern world and immerse themselves in everything nature has to offer. To do it right, however, it's important to understand a few fundamentals about the practice.
The first step to forest bathing is eliminating any modern distractions. This means leaving your phone and camera off or at home. Once you're ready to embrace nature, you need to find a spot to relax and soak up your surroundings. While a map can be helpful, some people find it better to let their senses guide them along. When you do find the perfect spot, sit on the ground or lie back on a blanket and try your best to savor the smells, sounds and sights of nature.
In many ways, forest bathing is like mindful meditation, which has been linked to a myriad of mental health benefits. In both practices, the goal is to be present in the moment without ruminating about the details of your life. This is best accomplished by focusing on your senses, whether you are caressing a blade of grass, relishing the scent of wildflowers or listening to cicadas chirp in the treetops.
While numerous studies have linked meditation to improved mental and physical well-being; research suggests it can be even more powerful when we do it while immersed in nature. According to research, forest bathing may actually boost human immune function, while reducing the risk of deadly long-term disease. Other research indicates that forest bathing could improve cardiovascular function, while alleviating depression, anxiety, fatigue and confusion.
At a bare minimum, forest bathing can help reduce stress and make you feel more one with nature. This can make your outdoor experience more rewarding. It can also provide real-life benefits you can carry with you when you return to the modern world. With all this in mind, you should consider spending some quiet time connecting with nature. Or, if you prefer, simply add brief sessions of forest bathing to your existing hiking or backpacking expeditions.
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