This morning I woke up feeling pretty depleted from a packed week. Without much thought, I knew I would be heading into the woods, using nature to replenish my energy and sense of well- being. Turns out, the instinctual pull to nature is actually a Japanese process called shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing,” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere.” Shinrin Yoku, an official term coined in the 1980s by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, is a form of eco-therapy intended to “improve an individual’s state of mental and physical relaxation” (Jin Park, et.al, 2010).
The act of engaging with nature to improve one’s sense of well-being is not a new concept.
However, field studies conducted in the past three decades have demonstrated real physiological benefits, including lower concentrations of cortisol (code for stress reduction), lower pulse rate, and increased parasympathetic nerve activity. In short, these studies revealed shinrin-yoku to be an evidence-based therapy that promotes mindfulness and a return to a calm state.
Need more convincing that trees are awesome? In 2009 Japanese scientists published a study that found inhaling tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and increased the activity of white-blood cells; aka ‘natural killer cells.’
The best part? Forest bathing is free and easily accessible. You don’t need an actual forest to enjoy the benefits of shinrin-yoku. A city park, or even your own backyard will suffice.
Ready to give it a try? Here are 5 easy steps to help you on your way.
Step 1 – Turn off your phone, or better yet, leave it behind, so that you can be fully present in the experience.
Step 2 – Leave behind your goals and expectations. Instead, choose to wander aimlessly, allowing your body to lead you.
Step 3 – Take a pause from time to time, and engage with your senses: look more closely at a leaf or notice the sounds of the forest.
Step 4 – Find a comfy spot to take a seat and choose to take some calming breaths while observing your environment. Allow yourself to rest while still being aware.
Step 5 – If you go with others, try to resist talking until the end of the walk.
Li Q, Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T,
Kawada T, Park BJ, Ohira T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Oct-Dec;22(4):951-9. doi:10.1177/039463200902200410. PMID: 20074458.
Park, B.J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T. et al. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med 15, 18 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9