It’s no mystery we’re surrounded by pollutants and other environmental risk factors, particularly those who are living in busy cities.
The longer we continue subjecting ourselves to poor air quality, the more we’re putting ourselves at risk for increased health problems later on in life.
That being said, steps are routinely being taken by developers to help improve infrastructures and maintain a healthier living environment.
The implementation of nature in our everyday lives must, however, play a substantial role in these plans if we want to continue working toward the betterment of our overall health and well-being.
What is Forest Bathing?
The term isn’t literally about one bathing in the forest, but rather a form of Shinrin-yoku healing therapy whereby you go into the woods. When someone is bathing in the forest, he or she is taking in its atmosphere.
It’s History and Origin
Having originated in Japan, forest bathing became the cornerstone of Japenese medicine in 1982. Bathing and therapy was also widely practiced, as well as taught throughout South Korea.
The forest isn’t the only place where this therapy can occur—it can happen in any natural area, and it can include an infinite number of activities to bring forth healing. Everyone posses eight sensory modes, and if each of those can be embraced, healing activities can occur.
Throughout the history of bathing, we can find some implications whereby baseline requirements are made for bathing in the forest and Shinrin-yoku:
1: Participants are working toward establishing an authentic connection with nature with the goal of healing.
This means they are required to move throughout the landscape mindfully, keep their senses open, keep their presence cultivated, and continuously communicate with the land.
2: It isn’t possible to rush through any experience. No one is embarking upon a walk to achieve an exercise goal.
The purpose of these walking tours is not to go on a “hike” because no physical exertion is occurring. Historically, no walk is lengthy and often less than one mile.
3: Those going on these walks must be present in the moment and provide their full attention. Throughout the history of this kind of therapy, guides offer invitations – instructions – allowing participants to keep their senses open and slow them down.
Numerous nuances are occurring throughout nature, and we’re able to perceive them on a deeper level with the guide’s help. This practice also allows for the ability to let the forest’s messages achieve greater penetration into our minds.
4: This kind of walk can’t occur just once to be effective. The best way to create a relationship with nature on a significant level is to do so over time.
The way to deepen this relationship is to go on walks as nature continues cycling throughout its seasons. Shinrin-yoku is a practice much like working out, meditation, and some methods that are considered worthy undertakings.
5: You’re not just going for a stroll in the forest. Every walk is an important one, and there are routines that you can follow to help you reap the healing benefits of connecting with nature.
Guides throughout the history of this practice have been teaching methods like cross-species communication, place tending, and sit spot to help participants continuously cultivate their healing experiences.
When these five elements are combined, we have the creation of the framework for how bathing in the forest has occurred throughout its history.
Benefits of Bathing
- Achieving Better Sleep: when our body produces more energy, a hormone is naturally triggered, thus allowing us to be able to sleep better.
- Create More Energy: each time we breathe in air from nature, our bodies will react by fighting fatigue and creating vigor.
- Decrease in Heart Attack Risk Factors: when going into the forest, an individual will experience a decrease in their pulse rate as well as their blood pressure and stress levels.
- Decrease in Inflammation: there are compounds that trees naturally release which help reduce inflammation as we breathe them into our lungs.
- Diabetes and Obesity Protection: those who have diabetes have had experiences with a lowering of their glucose levels.
- Increase Immunity: forest baths has shown scientific evidence regarding increases in immunity, decreases in cancer risk factors, and quicker recovery times from illnesses.
- Mood-Boosting Improvements: going into the forest has shown to help fight many levels of anxiety, confusion, and depression.
What to Expect
The guide assists each guest safely throughout walks while providing invitations; also known as instructions, thus allowing everyone to open up his or her senses through adaptive activities. Every walk is sequential.
Your guide will begin by helping you establish contact with where you are at this present moment. The next series of instructions are based upon how the guide reads the needs of each participant, so the connections are often spontaneous.
Following this exercise, participants are invited to either sit or wander. It’s common for a walk to conclude with the foraging of plants to create to share during a ceremony at the end.
It’s important to understand that guides are not taking you on a traditional hike. While the walk could last between two and four hours, the distance typically covers less than a quarter of a mile.
This short distance allows participants to make a deeper connection with nature than they ever have previously. Some participants report that they have significant, often profound, experiences during these walks. It’s the guides training that helps support each participant’s experience through the use of their perspectives and skills.
The forest’s therapeutic power comes through during these walks, thus allowing the trees, nature, and the woods to become the participant’s therapist. The guides aren’t trained therapists—their guides.
They know how to slow down those who are walking with them and allow them to experience all of their senses and will enable the forest to become the healer.
Upon becoming proficient on a baseline level with these therapy practices, it’s possible for guides to begin integrating them into their current professions.
For example, those who provided guided tours on land preserves can easily incorporate bathing into their schedules for those who are looking to connect with themselves and nature on a deeper level.
Top Places to Forest Bath
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove—Kyoto, Japan:
One look at these trees, and you'll never forget your experience at this therapy location. This spot is considered the most “Instagramable” place.
Blackberry Farm, Tennessee:
If you’re the type who would like to experience a guided forest bath while also getting in some circuit training on the side, the Blackberry Fram has a spa package called, “deep healing woods.”
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California:
With over 100 miles of walking trails, you're sure to find yourself drinking in a vast array of natural beauty as you see some of the tallest redwoods recorded.
Krzywy Las (AKA Crooked Forest), Gryfino, Poland:
If you’re interested in taking in some views of “unique” trees during their woodland therapy adventures, this is the place. Planted in 1930, no knows how or why these pines grew the way they did.
The Lodge at Woodloch, Poconos:
The 400-acres of woodland property this upscale lodge features five miles of trails that are both unpaved and paved. In 2013, the lodge introduced its Forest Bathing Exploration Program. Staff members who have become newly certified by the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy officer free weekly sessions.
Mohonk Mountain House, New York:
This resort has a certified mindfulness Ph.D. available to take you on guided forest bath tours, one of which is referred to as, “mindfulness in motion.”
Receive spa treatment and healing experiences in an all-in-one package meant to allow you to meditate, participate in yoga, experience a guided forest bath and more.
You’ll find a beech tree forest located in the Niigata Prefecture in Tōkamachi in the Hokuriku region. The Bijin Beech tree forest, which translates to a beautiful woman, receives its name because of its beautiful scenery. It’s possible to take in the gorgeous surroundings without distraction in this quiet forest.
Yakushima, Ōsumi Islands:
The lush vegetation, which this area is famous for, makes it an excellent area for forest bath walks. This is one of the many areas in the world where you can walk amongst century-old evergreen trees.
Where to Find a Forest Therapy Guide
Finding a therapy guide is a simple as going to a nature therapy guide site (http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/find-a-guide.html)and zoom into your area.
Once you’re in your area, you’ll be able to locate a certified guide. Every guide must undergo a six-month training program, as well as be a current Association of Nature & Forest Therapy membership holder.
How to Become a Guide
For those with interest in becoming a guide, you must complete a week-long intensive that is followed by a six-month mentored practicum.
The week-long intensive certification courses are held in many locations including Costa Rica, Florida, Ottowa, California, the UK, Slovenia, North Carolina, Ohia, Spain, and New Zealand. The six-month-long mentored practicum is held at your location.
The fees for the certification and guide training programs do not include lodging, meals, or ground transportation. Those who are residents of Serbia and Slovenia will, however, receive special rates.