15 Health Benefits of Shinrin-yoku or Forest Bathing: The Secret to Mindful Travel

Forest Bathing benefits

Looking for a new way to de-stress while keeping track of your travel goals? Try Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing. It is not literally taking a bath in the forest, but a natural practice of relieving mental exhaustion, pressure, and tension through a walk in the woods. 

This wellness practice was developed in response to high levels of work-related stress, physical and mental exhaustion, and a spike in rates of autoimmune disease. It has become an eco-friendly and healthy antidote to our technology-saturated world.

Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing

More intrepid travelers and adventure seekers are adopting this type of outdoor adventure due to its natural healing and therapeutic benefits. 

Forest Bathing health benefits

Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere or in the calmness of nature. This practice encourages people to simply spend time in nature. 

The goal of forest bathing is to live in the present moment while immersing our senses in nature's natural calmness and freshness. 

Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing

Forest bathing is not just a walk in the woods, it is a conscious and contemplative practice of immersing in nature, breathing the freshness of the woodlands, and restoring our sense of balance.. 

It is a secret to mindful travel. Mindfulness is an active awareness of our surroundings and life circumstances, and the acknowledgment of how we feel in the moment.

So what exactly is forest bathing?

This wellness practice originated in Japan in the 1980s. When the world was coming to realize the negative effects of depression, stress, mental and physical exhaustion, and distraction, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries created the term shinrin-yoku to let people de-stress and find a sense of balance in nature.

Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing
Forest bathing at the eco park today

Dr. Qing Li, MD, Ph.D., a doctor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and president of the Society of Forest Medicine, published a book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness

He identified a nature deficit disorder in society, which contributes to negative feelings about life, but can be significantly improved by just a few hours of forest bathing. 

Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing

Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing

"Forest Bathing is a preventative medicine, not a treatment", he was quoted as saying. "People spend their lives increasingly indoors", he said. "But we are designed to be connected to the natural world, to listen to the wind and taste the air”.

Forest bathing is a way to disconnect momentarily from the toxic world, explore the freshness of the natural environment, and listen to the relaxing sounds of the wilderness. 

It is an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire people to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.

Forest Bathing health benefits

Benefits of forest bathing:

1. Walking and relaxing in this type of immersive experience amongst the trees offer tons of health benefits. 

2. Spending mindful time in the woods relaxes our tired body. It helps alleviate mental and physical exhaustion.

3. Time spent under the trees’ canopy is a critical factor in the fight against diseases.

4. It has the power to counter illnesses including cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress, according to Dr. Qing Li.

5. It boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and aids sleep.

6. It is an opportunity for people to take time out, slow down and connect with nature. 

7. It helps regain our sense of balance in life and helps us escape the pressures of everyday life.

8. A walk in the woods helps alleviate blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. 

9. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to boost the immune system. 

10. Too much stress can take a toll in our mental health. Feeling stressed for long periods of time can lead to depression, increased anxiety, and even physical symptoms, like body aches. One simple way to manage stress? Spending time in nature.

11. One study by the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending time in a nature park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being.

12. The more in-depth practice of forest bathing has been found to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful hormones — like cortisol, which our body produces when we're stressed.

13. In addition, studies have found that simply spending 10 to 20 minutes walking in the woodlands or nature park, can lead to an improved well-being and happiness.

14.  The simple method of being calm and quiet among the trees while breathing deeply, can help us de-stress and boost physical and mental health and wellbeing in a natural way.

15. Spending time in nature, away from the city atmosphere can improve one's physical and mental health. It reduces the effects of stress on our body. In fact, a prescribed forest bathing in Japan has led to a healthier lifestyle for people of all ages.

How to practice forest bathing

While the word “forest” is in the name of this practice, heading out to a heavily wooded area isn’t the only way to forest bathe. One could take a trip to a nearby park or to any natural environment surrounded by trees and verdant plants. 

Head to the nearest woodlands or nature park and walk through the trees and verdant plants. No need to do rigorous hiking, running, or mountain-climbing, walking will do. You may sit under the canopy of trees.

Once you're there, take a moment to appreciate the surroundings and listen to the sounds of the rustling leaves, twittering of birds, and trickling streams. Breathe! And soak in the sights of the textured ground, greenery, and the shapes of the leaves.

Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing

Touch the soft, green moss carpeting the shaded stones, or the rough bark on the trees. Let the stillness around you influence your state of mind and make you forget the constant motion of the city. 

Take a few deep breaths and center yourself. Focus on what your senses are taking in, whether it’s the scent of clean air or a chorus of chirping birds.

Spend a few moments observing your surroundings. Sit and watch how the trees sway in the wind or simply walk around. 

If you decide to walk, go at a leisurely pace and without a specific destination in mind. It’s important to let your mind and senses explore and indulge.

The popularity of forest bathing

While Japan pioneers the modern practice of Shinrin-yoku, its popularity now spreads to other countries, particularly in the United Kingdom. And even members of the British royal family have acknowledged its health benefits.

The Prince of Wales and The Duke of Cambridge are just two members of the British royal family who love nature and the natural environment, They are also advocating nature conservation. 

In 2019, The Duchess of Cambridge, who loves country living, co-designed a garden project called "Back to Nature" for the Chelsea Flower Show, London's biggest horticulture event of the year. The design was inspired by the concept of shinrin-yoku.  

Duchess of Cambridge at her shinrin-yoku-inspired garden 

Prince William (turned his back) playing with Prince Louis. In front: Prince George and Princess Charlotte, at Kate's Back to Nature garden during the Chelsea Flower Show

It was a collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society, where Queen Elizabeth II is the patronThe Duchess' garden highlighted the positive mental and physical benefits gained from spending time in nature.  

Forest bathing

Gary Evans, who set up the Forest Bathing Institute in the UK, said: “People initially think they’ve been doing this all their lives: going for a walk in the woods. But it might be a brisk walk, or you might be worrying about where the dog has got to".

“A better way to frame forest bathing is a mindful time spent under the canopy of trees for health and wellbeing purposes.”

So if you're getting fed up with life and currently experiencing physical and mental exhaustion, take a break, head to the nearest nature park, and practice forest bathing. 

Being in a forest or nature park and paying attention to the surroundings stimulates the senses, enough to ease the tension and stress. Forest bathing heals a tired soul. 

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