How To Create an At-Home Forest Bathing Ritual
With a little know-how, aspects of shinrin-yoku,
the calming Japanese practice of spending time among trees,
can be approximated indoors.
By Kari Molvar, The New York Times, April 6, 2021
Forests have been imbued with magical, spiritual powers in folklore and fairy tales for centuries. But it’s their therapeutic properties that have captivated modern scientists. In Japan, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing—defined as spending time among trees—has been considered a form of preventive medicine since the 1980s, when researchers in Nagano found that the practice lessens stress, boosts immunity and lowers blood pressure.
Subsequent studies showed that soaking up the forest environment—the still atmosphere, the verdant scenery, the gentle crunching of twigs underfoot—reduces cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) and activates the parasympathetic (self-healing) nervous system. These findings paved the way for other holistic disciplines, including today’s forest medicine (the study of how wooded environments improve health) and ecotherapy (which considers the curative potential of natural settings).
Over the past decade, shinrin-yoku has become a well-established ritual among wellness buffs in the West, too, and from Baja California to the Berkshires, guided walks in the woods are now offered by rustic outfitters and high-end spas alike.
Qing Li, the president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine in Tokyo and the author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (2018), says that incorporating the practice into one’s routine isn’t all that complicated—there are no grueling moves to memorize, murky tinctures to ingest or mental gymnastics to master—which is part of the appeal. Instead, it’s simply about “connecting with nature through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.”
But it’s the crisp, clean forest air that’s perhaps most powerful. Breathing in phytoncides, the aromatic oils released by trees, can increase the number of the body's natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell crucial to the immune system that can limit the spread of microbial infections and tumors).
Considered a form of preventive medicine since the 1980s, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has been found to reduce stress, boost immunity, and lower blood pressure. To reap the best possible results, Li prescribes a three-day stay in the woods once a month or a six-hour day trip once a week. But get into nature—even for a few hours.