The Science Behind Forest Bathing

The concept of ecotherapy is growing in popularity as more of the population seeks refuge from technology and the bustle of daily life. From community gardening to outdoor meditation, there’s a growing interest in freeing the mind while connecting more with the outside world.

Like other ecotherapies, "forest bathing” was developed as a way of forming a deeper connection with nature (and has nothing to do with actual bathing). But what’s the science behind this alternative therapy? And is the great outdoors really the secret to achieving optimal health?

“Scheduling a date with nature is a great way to pull you away from the office or out of your usual routine,” says Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D. “Seeking balance is an intrinsic desire and nature is the ultimate reboot.”

The Breakdown:

Despite its recent surge in popularity, the concept behind forest bathing originated in Japan in the early 80s amidst the country’s economic boom. The Japanese term shinrin-yoku loosely translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” — a simple phrase that encompasses the purpose of the practice.

Though not yet universally acknowledged, forest bathing and nature therapy do have a growing place in our society and the greater health community. There’s even an Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) that offers trainings, guided walks and retreats.

"Humanity is overwhelmed,” says Meletis. “Reconnecting with the natural world allows us to see the wisdom that is already instilled in the trees, plants and animals around us so that we can live in harmony.”

How it Works:

Like with most therapies, your frame of mind is nearly as important as your surroundings. While hiking or walking is often destination driven, Meletis says, the purpose of forest bathing is to be present and immerse yourself in your environment.

“Forest bathing allows you to really see and hear the nature around you,” he says. “Actively and consciously connecting to your environment is key.”

In addition to helping reduce stress and manage cortisol levels, recent studies suggest that forest bathing may have physical benefits as well. Because sleep, stress and physical illness are all interconnected, forest bathing and similar ecotherapies may also help reduce the risk of infection and disease.

Common Misconceptions:

        1. “You have to be ‘outdoorsy’ to enjoy forest bathing.”
          Just like supplements, exercise and food sensitivity testing, forest bathing is for anyone looking to reap the benefits. Unlike outdoor activities such as mountain biking or rock climbing, your forest bathing practice can be adjusted to suit your preferences and activity level. For some that might be a short walk through a park while others may prefer a 10-mile hike.

        2. “Forest bathing is just another wellness trend with no hard science behind it.”
          "We as human beings often get stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel of life and forget that our ancestors’ very existence was linked with the natural world around them,” Meletis says.

          By leaving the city and constant connectivity behind us, he says, we’re allowing our bodies to shift from being driven by our sympathetic nervous system to a more calm and collected state.

        3. “You need to be surrounded by nature to benefit from forest bathing.”
          You don’t necessarily need to embark on a long walk through the woods to feel the effects. Simply taking a stroll around the block or sitting on a park bench with a book can provide many of the same benefits.

          “Some fresh air and exercise give you some space from technology and let you gain perspective,” Meletis says. “There’s a lot of beauty and serenity on this planet if we take the opportunity to see it.”

In conclusion, there’s no wrong way to indulge in nature therapy or disconnect from technology...but if you’re looking for a simple practice that can ease a busy mind, forest bathing is a worthwhile option.

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