Forest bathing — or Shinrin-yoku — was first developed in Japan back in the 1980s. As people in Japan enjoyed the endless benefits of immersing themselves in nature, people in the U.S. remained entirely clueless.
Over the past few years, however, the U.S. has seen a massive forest bathing boom. As stress levels skyrocket, Americans are constantly seeking out natural ways to stay calm and centered. Enter meditation, yoga, stress-busting herbs and teas, and yes, forest bathing. If this is your first time hearing about this healing practice, the first thing you should know is that it’s not what it sounds like. While bathing in a serene river or lake deep in the forest does sound ideal, forest bathing is more about awakening your senses with all that nature has to offer and having a meditative moment in the forest.
The health benefits of forest bathing
To the forest bathing novice, it probably sounds a lot like hiking. While forest bathing and hiking do have similarities — and hiking certainly has its health benefits — forest bathing isn’t about getting exercise. It’s actually about slowing down in nature and touching and smelling your surroundings.
In fact, a 2011 study that compared the health benefits of walking in nature versus walking in a city found that the nature walkers had significantly lower stress levels and a decrease in blood pressure compared to the ones who’d taken a city stroll. In other words, the walking might not matter nearly as much as the environment people are walking in.
Forests also have natural aromatherapy in the form of phytoncides, a compound found in trees. By touching and smelling tree bark, people naturally feel calmer and more grounded thanks to a reduction in stress hormones, and there’s some evidence that phytoncides help strengthen the immune system. Other studies have found that forest bathing lowers heart rate and improves overall sense of wellbeing. In other words, there isn’t a lot forest bathing doesn’t help with health-wise — so it only makes sense that people keep returning to it.
Where should you go forest bathing?
If all of the positive effects of forest bathing sound like a dream, good news: As forest bathing continues to rise in popularity, so do the number of forest bathing guides. In 2017, the U.S. Association of Nature & Forest Therapy certified 250 new forest bathing guides. Chances are, there are forest bathing opportunities a short distance from your home, so if you feel like staying local, a quick Google search will likely tell you where to go.
In terms of popular forest bathing destinations, if you’re willing to make a trip out of it, consider heading to the birthplace of forest bathing and immersing yourself in the Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan. If you’d rather stay stateside, head to the Pocono Mountains and go to the Lodge at Woodloch Resort, where forest bathing guides are waiting to take groups of people to the nearby forests. There are similar opportunities in Stowe, Vermont, at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, and if you’re a West Coaster, check out the Forest Bathing Club of San Francisco or the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.
If you can’t find any convenient forest bathing options, worry not. While guides can help enrich the experience, forest bathing is something you can absolutely do on your own (and it’s cheaper that way, too!) Check out this forest bathing guide for beginners, or simply wander into nearby nature with the intention of touching and smelling the trees and leaves and dipping your toes in a stream. Spending time in nature is ridiculously important for human beings — especially considering our stress levels. So make sure you get your fix no matter what.