A friend recently sent me a link to a journal guide to forest bathing. I don’t know what forest bathing is, she said, but I want to do it.I agreed entirely. It sounded nice, whatever it was. I pictured someone sitting serenely on the forest floor, rubbing a fistful of leaves and twigs into her arm, loofah-style. I hoped this person knew what poison ivy looked like. And then wondered if and how she might remove the dirt and leaf litter from her “bath.” Maybe there was a mountain stream nearby. Now I was curious.
When I looked it up, I found forest bathing has a disappointing lack of leafy loofahs and metaphysical weirdness. It’s mostly just a nature walk or a wander in the woods, or whatever us normal people call it when you take in the natural world. Which means many of us have forest bathed without knowing it.
And that’s a good thing. Forest bathing is a healing and preventative health care practice that was developed in Japan in the 1980s and comes from the term “shinrin-yoku,” which means “forest bath” or “taking the forest atmosphere.” It’s gaining popularity as a form of nature therapy and proponents say it boosts immune function, reduces stress and blood pressure, increases energy and focus, and improves mood.
Plus, you get to tell people you went forest bathing and that’s always a fun conversation starter.
Unlike hiking, hunting or foraging, forest bathing isn’t about a goal or destination. The primary action is to be outside and pay attention to what’s around you. It’s a chance to observe, listen, smell — even touch and taste, if you have enough botanical know-how.
It’s a physical experience, but it’s not exercise. It’s a mental experience, but it’s not for the purpose of learning. You can get a forest bathing journal or find a forest therapy guide or you can do it yourself and just hang out in the woods. You can do breathing exercises. You can relax. You can meditate. You can pray.
You cannot make to-do lists or catch up on emails.
It turns out forest bathing is one of my favorite things to do and I didn’t even know it had a name until the other week. I’m loving listening to robins call to each other, savoring air that smells like firs or cedars, watching a bee buzz from flower to flower and cheering on a fern that’s unfurling. Even more, I like ignoring my phone and forgetting the million things I have to do, even if it’s just for a moment. So if I can upgrade my “lollygagging” to “forest bathing” with its list of health benefits — well, this is one bath I’ll gladly jump in.
Forest bathing tips and tricks
- If you forest bathe in a hammock on a warm afternoon, it will likely turn into what is called a “forest nap,” which probably has some health benefits, so go for it.
- When you forest bathe, don’t wear a swimsuit or a fuzzy white bathrobe. There are mosquitos in the forest, along with branches that scratch. There is also dirt, so dress accordingly.
- Forest bathing is ideal for when you are in the woods with annoying people. Not only because forest bathing can reduce stress, but also because you can take the opportunity to say things like “stop talking, I’m forest bathing” or “I need to do my forest bathing now, go away.”
- Phones cannot be used during forest bathing. If you must, you can use your camera, as long as you don’t take selfies or lifestyle shots. If you Instagram your pictures from forest bathing then it doesn’t count.