Forest bathing is the process of slowing down in nature and mindfully tuning in to each of your senses, so that you are able to connect with nature. Forest therapy is when we look to do this with a specific mental health benefit in mind, rather than just for enjoyment.
The term Forest bathing first originated in Japan as shinrin-yoku (‘shinrin’ means forest and ‘yoku’ means bath), although the importance of connection with nature has long been known within indigenous cultures and intuition. Shinrin-yoku was developed to support the wellbeing of an overworked population by supporting them to ‘bathe’ in the forest atmosphere, and is now a key preventative health measure. It recognised that the phytoncides (essential oil chemicals released by trees) had powerful effects our mental and physical health (see benefits section for more information).
If you’d like to have a go at virtual forest bathing, you can access some lovely videos by Peace of the Woods here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFnrEhyOuXwz5ZAp0lXBZHg
There are many physical and mental health benefits evidenced in the research. Theories propose that nature has a restorative effect on us, providing physiological relaxation and immune system recovery. Green and blue spaces allow our nervous system to move from ‘fight or flight’ mode to ‘rest and digest’. If you think about it – we have lived in green and blue spaces for much of human existence, it is where we have evolved to live and so it makes sense that our bodies feel more relaxed and less stressed in nature.
In summary, forest bathing benefits include:
- Reduces levels of stress and anxiety (Leibold 2021, Song et al. 2020)
- Effective short-term intervention for reduction and prevention of depression in adults (Rosa et al. 2020)
- Improved wellbeing measured through Heart Rate Variability (HRV) – (McEwan et al. 2021)
- Improves creativity and higher cognitive level functioning (Yu and Hsieh 2020)
- Boosts your immune system (Li 2010)
- Reduces blood pressure (Yau and Loke 2020)
- Increases Natural Killer cells (important for fighting tumours and viruses) and intracellular anti-cancer proteins, through phytoncides – essential oils given off by trees (Li et al. 2008)
- Improves sleep (Kwanda et al 2015)
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of nature for your mental and physical health, here are some links and book recommendations:
The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing by Julia Plevin
The Natural Health Service by Isabel Hardman
Nature and Therapy by Martin Jordan
The Nature Fix by Florence Williams
The Enchanted Life by Sharon Blackie
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
I filmed two videos on nature connection and forest bathing with Momentum Resilient Life. Momentum Resilient Life is a health and wellness community with the vision to build a global resilient transformational network and online platform. You can watch them here:
Guardian article on forest bathing and social prescribing - https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/08/forest-bathing-japanese-practice-in-west-wellbeing
Forestry England - https://www.forestryengland.uk/blog/forest-bathing