When you first hear about “forest bathing,” you might think of skinny-dipping in a secluded spot deep in the woods. Although that might be part of your forest bathing journey, that’s not what the term means. Think of forest bathing as something like sunbathing. But instead of basking in the rays of the sun, you’ll drink in the restorative essence of nature.
We can thank the Japanese for coining the term “forest bathing.” The Japanese Forest Agency introduced the phrase (in Japanese, of course, where it’s known as Shinrin-Yoku) in 1982. Acknowledging the healing, rejuvenating qualities of nature, the agency encouraged citizens to spend time in tranquil green spaces and public forests.
People have known about the healing properties of nature for a long time. Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates opined, “Nature itself is the best physician.” Still, now that the ancient practice of spending unhurried time in nature has acquired the name of forest bathing, it’s more on people’s radar. Cultures around the world that have lost touch with the practice are consciously beginning to take it up again.
The Basics of Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is easy—that’s part of the attraction. All you need is a green space, time, and patience. Then head to the green space and take it all in: the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and feelings of peace and contentment.
Ideally your green space will be a forest, but that may not be possible for urban dwellers. Whatever pockets of nature you have available will do. Keep in mind, though, that you want a setting that’s as natural as possible. That way your senses have more to feast on.
Why Forest Bathing is Important
Working in harmony with nature, human beings have tapped into its wealth of food, medicine, shade, and resources since time immemorial. When the industrial revolution and the resulting modernization came along, though, we fell out of step with nature. Bulldozing forests, paving over wetlands, dumping plastic waste in the ocean: we’re now exploiting nature instead of cooperating with it.
But we weren’t meant to live as enemies of nature or as aliens in our natural environment. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, people should "live in the sunshine, swim the sea, and drink the wild air."
The incredible brains that allowed us to construct our skyscrapers and superhighways know that working against or ignoring nature isn’t healthy. In fact, alienation from nature might be the root cause of many of our "modern" health conditions.
Health Benefits of Renewing Our Connection to the Forest
The chlorophyll trees produce is strikingly similar to the hemoglobin in our blood. The only difference is that an atom of hemoglobin is built around iron while chlorophyll is built around magnesium. Maybe these connections help explain how nature can improve our health.
The healing properties of nature have been documented in a host of studies. These studies prove that when we venture out into nature, even if it’s just for a little while, our parasympathetic nervous system gradually takes control.
That shifting of control results in all kinds of positive changes. We enjoy lower blood pressure, pulse rate, inflammation, and cortisol levels while improving mood and activating cancer fighting natural killer (NK) cells. Thanks to this shift out of overdrive, we can experience increased vitality and decreased depression, anxiety, fatigue, and brain fog.
People who live near evergreen forests benefit from the high concentrations of airborne essential oils (phytoncides) that the forests release. These essential oil “showers” are part of the tree’s mechanism for surviving and thriving. Thankfully, these surprisingly potent showers also work to our advantage through relieving stress and boosting immunity for weeks.
Science verifies what we’ve always intuitively known: forests help us stay happy and healthy.
The Nuts and Bolts of Forest Bathing
The best-case scenario is that you’ll do your forest bathing in a real live forest. Plan to spend a few hours or a day at your nearest forest. Tomohide Akiyama, the man who came up with the term, explained that forest bathing is the practice of “walking slowly through the woods, in no hurry, for a morning, an afternoon, or a day.”
When you get to the forest, put your phone on airplane mode and ignore it for your time in the forest. If you have to, you can use it to snap some pictures, but using airplane mode will insure you avoid distractions, as well as avoiding the harsh EMF's (electromagnetic frequencies) that are constantly being emitted by our devices. The essence of forest bathing, though, is to open up all of your senses to nature and fully experience the moment.
Close your eyes and listen to the subtle sounds you might have missed: the tree leaves rustling in the winds, the birds gently chattering. As your mind mellows, open your eyes and take in the vista before you. Notice the colors, the patterns, and the darting, dancing shadows.
Touch a tree trunk and explore the cracks and crevices of the bark with no agenda except to connect to nature. You can even take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the earth if you’re up to it.
Breathe deeply and drink in the rich scent of understory plants and the spicy twang of evergreens. To taste the forest, pinch off a fresh pine needle and place it on your tongue. Don’t worry; pine needles are good for you, containing antioxidants and vitamin C.
But I Can’t Get To a Forest!
Forest bathing is meant to inspire you, not send you on a guilt trip. Do what you can to connect with nature. Plant a garden or keep houseplants. Take the scenic route whenever you can. You can even listen to forest sounds for instant relaxation. Use your imagination and weave more nature into your life!
One More Way To Connect With Nature
Another way you can connect with nature is by wearing our OMA bracelet. Since it's made entirely of organic materials from the Amazon rainforest, the bracelet will help you resonate with the rainforest each time you wear it. You’ll also feel good knowing that your bracelet helped fund the conservation of some of the most beautiful and biodiverse forests that the planet has to offer.