Forest Bathing: Mindfulness Meets Nature

In our increasingly urban and digitized worlds, humans are facing a forest-deprivation crisis.


Published:

The term “forest bathing” has nothing to do with water, and is more than just a poetic way of describing a walk in the woods, something humans, of course, have been doing for over five million years. The Japanese government coined the term in 1982, a translation of shinrin-yoku, which literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere.”

This Japanese concept revolves around a deceptively simple practice: quietly walking and exploring, with a mind deliberately intent on — and all senses keenly open to — every sound, scent, color and feel of the forest in all its buzzing bio-diversity. With forest bathing (and the increasingly expert-led forest therapy or shinrin-ryoho), mindfulness meets nature, and the goal is to bathe every physical cell and your entire psyche in the forest’s essence. No power hiking needed here; you just wander slowly, breathe deeply and mindfully, and stop and experience whatever catches your soul — whether drinking in the fragrance of that little wildflower or really feeling the texture of that birch bark.

Poetic? Pleasurable? Yes. But it’s the science behind the practice that’s now taking forest bathing global, as a growing mountain of evidence indicates there’s strong medicine for human bodies and brains that a forest uniquely dispenses.

Forest therapy studies have been led by Japan, whose government funded $4 million in research from 2004-2013. Today, the research database PubMed returns 100+ studies on the health impact of forest bathing, including studies indicating that it significantly lowers blood pressure (-1.4 percent), heart rate (-5.8 percent), cortisol levels (-12.4 percent) and sympathetic nerve activity (-7 percent) compared with city walks, while also alleviating stress and depression.1 The most provocative of these studies conclude that exposure to phytoncides, the airborne, aromatic chemicals/oils emitted by many trees, have a long-lasting impact on people’s immune system markers, boosting natural killer (NK) cells and anti-cancer proteins by 40 percent.

It’s research like this that has made forest bathing a pillar of preventive medicine in Japan and increasingly common in places like Korea (where it’s called salim yok), Taiwan and Finland. It may be hard to grasp what a serious, widespread practice this is in Japan, where a quarter of the population partakes in forest bathing and millions visit the 55+ official Forest Therapy Trails annually, prompting a plan to designate an additional 50 such sites within 10 years. Visitors to Japanese Forest Therapy Trails report that they’re asked to have their blood pressure and other biometrics taken pre- and post-bathing in the quest for ever more data.

It’s no surprise that densely urban places like Japan and Korea were the first to rush to forest bathing, but as the world undergoes the most intense urbanization in history, we’re all in a sense “turning Japanese.” Fifty-four percent of us now live in urban areas, and that number will rise to 66 percent by 2050.2 In 1990 there were only 10 mega-cities (10 million+ people); now there are 28, and by 2040 there will be 41. City living puts nature and simplicity at a higher premium, which is why so many more Chinese people are taking “Blue Sky Holidays” to escape the mega-city pollution and get into nature.

Major media worldwide have been ramping up coverage of this fascinating evidence. In an era of unprecedented urbanization and digitization (with the average person now bathing his face seven hours a day in the glow of a screen), we humans are in the throes of a forest-deprivation crisis. The convergence of these two trends — growing awareness of the medical benefits of time spent in forests, and alienation from this essential, yet increasingly exotic, human experience — will drive demand for forest bathing experiences in the year (and years) ahead.

Japan took the lead with the launch of its Association of Therapeutic Effects of Forests in 2004, but today more and more nations are stepping up development and promotion. A government-supported taskforce on forests and human health launched in Finland in 2007. Things went global when the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM) debuted in 2011 and went on to establish a North American chapter established in 2013. Korea is investing $140 million in a new National Forest Therapy Center slated to open soon. In short, more government bodies and wildlife organizations are now yoking their forest offerings to the practice of, and science behind, forest bathing, whether it’s the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation or the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Professionals Prescribing Nature

Increasingly, forest bathing is evolving into professionalized forest therapy, including certified specialists and specially designed trails. In Japan, forest therapy bases are selected by researchers, with forest therapy led by licensed professionals. A Health From The Forest Project (through a partnership with the Finnish Forest Research Institute) has created special engagement-based trails in Finland, France, Luxembourg and Sweden. In the U.S., the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs provides training and certification around the country, and they even offer forest therapy wellness retreats that combine a spa or hot springs resort stay. What was once a walk in the woods will continue to become more evidence-based and expert-led.

An insightful Slate article3 explores how more doctors are now prescribing time in parks/forests, just as they did in the 19th century when unwell people were packed off to health resorts in the woodsy Swiss Alps or Adirondacks, before the rise of the pharmaceutical era. The U.S. pioneer in the prescribing nature movement is Dr. Robert Zarr, whose Park RX program, started in 2013 by multiple government agencies, has written hundreds of prescriptions for young people with conditions like asthma and obesity to get out and move in nature.

Park RX is just one of a growing number of global nature prescription initiatives. New Zealand’s Green Prescriptions, used by over 80 percent of the nation’s general practitioners, involves writing a nature prescription (GRx) and then supporting patients with follow-up phone calls and/or meetings. In Wales, a Forestry Commission program, Actif Woods, has doctors prescribing woodland walks to combat conditions like heart problems and depression. And in an interesting global development, INFOM approved certifying physicians in Forest Medicine in 2014.

A Dose of Forest

In Japan, forest bathing is becoming a staple of mainstream medicine. Companies are starting to include forest therapy in healthcare benefits. Forest therapy locations link to both hospitals and hot springs/medical spa establishments, with many offering free wellness check-ups right in the forest. Last year saw the launch of a Walking Forest Therapy Roads® With A Doctor program, giving people an opportunity to see how even one dose of forest therapy impacts their stress levels and NK cells.

Forest bathing — it may be a poetic concept, but there’s powerful evidence that it’s also medicine for our bodies and minds, offering stress-reducing, immune-boosting benefits that you simply can’t get anywhere else. It’s uniquely accessible (download one of the many forest finder apps) and the perfect practice for our stress-crushed lives. Shinrin-yoku gives people a framework for experiencing the forest in a new way — with intent, mindfully, meditatively, with every sense open.

Nature prescriber, Dr. Zarr, stated in Slate that, “the effects of nature are still not on enough people’s radar,” even though “we’ve touched on something exciting.” Our prediction is that will change, and change will take on many forms. That includes the advent of forest schools — where today’s over-scheduled, screen-addicted young children’s classrooms are moved entirely into nature — first established in Swiss Waldkindergartens, and now catching on in places like the U.S., U.K. and Canada4.

In short, forest therapy will be supported by more governments, promoted and developed in more forests, and incorporated into more wellness/spa retreats. Meanwhile, mounting medical evidence regarding forests’ and green spaces’ impact on human health will continue to lead to innovations in architecture, urban planning, and workplace, hospital, school and home design. And while more people travel to forests in search of health and rejuvenation, experts will find creative ways to bring more green corridors to where more and more of us live: the city.

Notes

1. Research undertaken on 600+ subjects by leading forest medicine scholars, Juyoung Lee and Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University, and Qing Li from Nippon Medical School, Japan.
2. United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, 2014.
3. Slate, “RX: 50 mg. Nature,” July 2014.
4. NPR Radio, KQED, “Forest Kindergartens Push Back Against Academic Focus for Young Kids,” November 2014.

Reprinted courtesy of Spafinder Wellness, Inc., from the 2015 Spa and Wellness Trends Forecast. This annual report is based on ongoing surveys of the 20,000-plus spa, wellness and beauty providers in the Spafinder Wellness 365 Network. Visit www.spafinder.com.

See also:
United Plant Savers’ Botanical Sanctuary Network
The Roots of Southern Folk Medicine

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

September 24, 2017

From the wee hours of the morning until midnight the Scorpio Moon orbits void of course. The lackadaisical atmosphere is curiously fortified by Mars’ opposition to Neptune. If you have the opportunity to see a dream come true, go for it. On the other…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2017

Healthy living, healthy planet lifestyle expo with LOHAS niche vendors, hands-on bodywork, labyrinth meditation, workshops, local food cafe, food trucks and a screening of the soon to be...

Cost: $25

Where:
The Reggie Lewis Center
1350 Tremont St
Roxbury Crossing, MA  02120
View map »


Sponsor: Natural Awakenings Boston
Telephone: 617-906-0232
Contact Name: Maisie Raftery
Website »

More information

Ever wondered what, exactly, people mean when they describe someone as “an intuitive?” Do you feel you might have some of these abilities that are untapped at this moment? This workshop...

Cost: $25 per person

Where:
The Studio at One Earth
191 Emery Mills Road
Shapleigh, ME  04076
View map »


Sponsor: The Studio at One Earth
Telephone: 207-636-2500
Contact Name: The Studio at One Earth
Website »

More information

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

How long does it take to change your life? The blink of an eye! Learn two spiritual secrets to success and walk out the door at 6pm into a new life!

Cost: $25

Where:
Doubletree Hotel
Milford, MA


Sponsor: Rhys Thomas Institute
Website »

More information

Sunday Reiki treatments with Reiki master and practitioner Linda Simons in Brookline, MA. Start your week off on a more balanced note with a Reiki treatment on a Sunday afternoon. Please join me...

Cost: Sliding Scale $20-$40

Where:
233 Harvard Street
Suite 36
Brookline, MA  02446
View map »


Telephone: 617-304-2205
Contact Name: LInda Simons
Website »

More information

Guided loving kindness meditation every Sunday at HeartSong Spiritual Wellness. No charge to attend. Donations are appreciated to help support this non-profit wellness center. Read more:...

Cost: Free

Where:
HeartSong Spiritual Wellness
23 Pine Street
Milford, MA  01757
View map »


Sponsor: HeartSong
Contact Name: Jacki Rose
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Are you interested in natural birth control or are you trying to or planning to conceive? We’ll talk about the benefits of charting your cycles.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Democracy Center
45 Mt. Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA  02139
View map »


Sponsor: AC Fertility Awareness
Telephone: 617-899-7624
Contact Name: Anna Churchill
Website »

More information

18-month immersion course for the awake soul with Rev. Michelle Renee Pelletier, founding director of the Center for Psychic Healing.

Where:
248 Main Street
Harwich, MA
View map »


Telephone: 707-849-7793
Website »

More information

The Daoist Benevolent Association offers free classes on traditional Wudang style tai chi. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Brown School
42 Milk St Newburyport
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Daoist Benevolent Association
Telephone: 978-462-4617
Contact Name: Barbara
Website »

More information

Nancy's therapeutic and healing nature stems from her own personal journey through health struggles. Her style is open to everyone, no matter physical or mental challenges, or age....

Cost: $15 drop in or $12 with 10 class bundle

Where:
HeartSong Spiritual Wellness
23 Pine Street
Milford, MA  01757
View map »


Sponsor: HeartSong Spiritual Wellness Center
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Release old negative self-beliefs, let go of negative body image thoughts, explore how the media fools us into believing how we “should” look and the reality of who we are. We try...

Cost: $45

Where:
Integrated Psychotherapy
31 Hastings Street
Mendon, MA  01756
View map »


Telephone: 508-473-1200
Contact Name: Sherri Snyder, MA, LMHC
Website »

More information

The Daoist Benevolent Association offers free classes on traditional Wudang style tai chi. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Brown School
42 Milk St Newburyport
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Daoist Benevolent Association
Telephone: 978-462-4617
Contact Name: Barbara
Website »

More information

One-of-a-kind, life changing holistic health education program again being offered free of charge Local business owner shares groundbreaking mind-body-spirit course to combat obesity epidemic...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park
#4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Beginner Kripalu Yoga with Lisa Davidson Brand new to yoga or returning after a break, this class is kind and challenging for your body, relaxing and destressing for your mind, and will help you...

Cost: $113 for 7 weeks

Where:
A Yoga Leaf
@ Whimsy
686 Worcester Rd.
Framingham, MA  01702
View map »


Sponsor: Lisa Davidson
Contact Name: Lisa Davidson
Website »

More information

A unique divine healing meditation, lead by Bhavna, to help you in your life; with your relationships, money, work and family. Also, the meditation helps with letting go to release...

Cost: $10

Where:
Bhavna’s Wellness Group
512 Main St.
Penthouse Suite
Shrewsbury, MA  01545
View map »


Sponsor: Bhavna’s Wellness Group
Telephone: 508-970-5620
Contact Name: Krista Bennett
Website »

More information

Daoist Priest Zhou Xuanyun teaches traditional Wudang style kung fu.

Cost: $110/month

Where:
Boston Ultimate Fitness
72 Beach Street (4th Floor)
Boston, MA  02111
View map »


Sponsor: Daoist Gate Wudang Arts
Telephone: 508-245-8305
Contact Name: Zhou Xuanyun
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

This gentle yoga class is good for all skill levels. Scheduled perfectly in the middle of your week; the movements will be a welcome respite to your usual morning routine.

Cost: $10

Where:
Bhavna’s Wellness Group
512 Main St.
Penthouse Suite
Shrewsbury, MA  01545
View map »


Sponsor: Bhavna’s Wellness Group
Telephone: 508-970-5620
Contact Name: Krista Bennett
Website »

More information

Qigong is an amazing practice used to prevent and heal disease. Qigong is a series of flowing and repeated movements, stretches and breathing exercises. Qigong movements are gentle and easy to...

Cost: $12

Where:
The Arlington Center
369 Mass Ave
Arlington, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Maryellen LaBelle
Telephone: 781-710-4325
Contact Name: Maryellen LaBelle
Website »

More information

Weekly yoga classes with Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN of Harmony Way on Wednesdays at 12:15 PM and Fridays at 9:30 AM at the Wilbraham Senior Center. Class welcomes all ages and uses a...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN
Website »

More information

With Lisa Rockenmacher and Kristan Bishop Looking for a deeper connection with bliss? Seeking practical ways to increase wellness and health in all aspect of your life? Do you desire a...

Cost: $100

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-969-8968
Contact Name: Brian Serven
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Connect, breathe and guide your space within. Bring peace and healing to the mind, body and soul. This workshop offers an introduction to the therapeutic principles of the didgeridoo and a basic...

Cost: $35

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-969-8968
Contact Name: Brian Serven
Website »

More information

Weekly yoga classes with Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN of Harmony Way on Wednesdays at 12:15 PM and Fridays at 9:30 AM at the Wilbraham Senior Center. Class welcomes all ages and uses a...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Rev. Michelle Caron, RMT, CYT, ZIN
Website »

More information

Daoist Priest Zhou Xuanyun teaches traditional Wudang style kung fu.

Cost: $110/month

Where:
Boston Ultimate Fitness
72 Beach Street (4th Floor)
Boston, MA  02111
View map »


Sponsor: Daoist Gate Wudang Arts
Telephone: 508-245-8305
Contact Name: Zhou Xuanyun
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A day of wellness discussions, meditation, and mini sessions of Reiki, massage, acupuncture, card readings, and more.

Cost: $40 pre-register, $60 at the door

Where:
Bhavna’s Wellness Group
512 Main Street
Penthouse Suite
Shrewsbury, MA  01545
View map »


Telephone: 508-970-5620
Website »

More information

January 14 - December 9, 2017 With Tom Frederick Novice — This 12-month program is designed to assist you on your journey to spiritual enlightenment. Here we study a variety of esoteric...

Cost: $1300

Where:
Women of Wisdom
118 Washington Street
North Easton, MA  02356
View map »


Sponsor: Women of Wisdom
Telephone: 508-230-3680
Contact Name: Women of Wisdom
Website »

More information

Colds, fevers, bites, bumps and stomach aches. 10 remedies and more to have on hand. Hands on: Make an herbal emergency medicine kit. $40 drop in. $30 each with a friend and $60 off to sign...

Cost: $40 drop in. $30 each with a friend and $60 off to sign up for the series.

Where:
Opening Lotus Yoga
456 Main Street
Holden, MA  01520
View map »


Sponsor: Hillside Herbals
Telephone: 508-847-8615
Contact Name: Rachel Ross
Website »

More information

Join us with instructor Chuck Raffoni for a super fun night of relaxing and recharging! Let yourself “glow with the flow” as our studio is magically transformed for an illuminating...

Cost: $25

Where:
Windsoul Studio
440 Middlesex Rd
Tyngsboro, MA  01879
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags