Recently, I ran across a Japanese practice called “forest bathing.” Don’t get too excited — it’s not as sexy as it sounds. It’s a simple remedy for anxiety, stress and other modern maladies.
What is “forest bathing?”
Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” helps people reconnect with the natural world and unleashes the restorative power of creation. On the surface, it looks a lot like spending time in nature. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that it’s not a typical weekend hike.
For starters, the idea isn’t to see how far or fast you can go. Forest bathing is about walking through nature in a leisurely, relaxed and contemplative kind of way. One of the instructional guides I found said that if you walk more than three miles in four hours, you’re going too fast. That’s a lot slower than the average walking pace of about three miles per hour.
Instead of approaching a nature outing like a wilderness race, you might walk a little bit and then stop to read a few chapters of a good book. After a while, you may meander further down the trail and then stop to soak in the sounds of the forest. You get the idea.
The benefits of forest bathing
God looked at creation and called it good — a concept that has been affirmed by writers and thinkers throughout the centuries. It turns out that nature is more than good. In fact, time spent in nature has restorative properties for our mental and even physical selves.
In Walden, Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of wilderness.” The Japanese have discovered that forest bathing really does serve as a tonic for our minds and bodies. According to the Japanese, the benefits of forest bathing include:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Lower stress
- Increased energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Greater focus
Now here’s where it gets kind of weird. Citing environmental immunology research conducted by the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, proponents of forest bathing claim that the practice changes the human immune system.
Blood tests taken before and after forest bathing “sessions” show a boost in the types of cells that help the body fight off illnesses — including cancer. It’s believed that forest air contains compounds from the surrounding trees, flooding our bodies with substances that have both anti-microbial and immune-boosting properties.
Nature as a tonic for the soul
Although I’m not a scientist, I suppose it’s possible that nature could have a positive impact on our immune systems. But here’s what I know for sure:
Time spent in nature is a healing tonic for the soul.
I’ve never regretted the time I’ve spent in nature. Not one minute.
Still, I recognize that a lot of the time I spend in nature is devoted to getting from Point A to Point B (and back to Point A). Hiking is great exercise, but it focuses on the destination at the expense of the journey. Too often, it’s about achieving a goal, rather than simply enjoying the process.
And that’s what appeals to me about the forest bathing concept. The ability to luxuriate and soak in creation is a spiritual skill — a skill that we need to learn if we have any chance of preserving our sanity and our souls in an increasingly complex and fragmented world.