Growing up, I found forests to be fascinating places. One of my favorite vacation spots in the world was Big Sur. Being in Big Sur felt like being in the watercolor illustrations in my children’s books that I read at the time. Seeing and smelling the flowers, trees, and the ocean was tranquil. I didn’t know it at the time but I actually did a type of activity called “shinrin—yoku” or “forest bathing.”
Forest bathing was developed in Japan in 1982 as part of its national health program. The goal was to have people reconnect with nature in the most basic way possible. Basically, hike in the woods, take deep breaths and find yourself at peace. It was unplugging before unplugging was a thing.
Researchers, mainly from Japan and Korea, have instituted that a huge body of scientific literature stating the health benefits of spending time in a forest. Now their research is helping establish forest therapy throughout the world.
The scientific health benefits of forest bathing include:
- Boosted immune system functioning.
- Reduction in stress.
- Reduced blood pressure.
- Better moods.
- Increase in attention span, even with children with ADHD.
- A general increase of happiness.
There are several eco—therapies, spas, and training sessions throughout the world dedicated to forest bathing. The tuition to become a formally certified forest bathing instructor can run up to $3,200, not including travel, lodging, or food. Although the tuition may sound high, many of these training sessions are nearly booked.
In Japan, a forest-based therapy base must meet certain criteria to be recognized by the government, including a scientific evaluation of its healing ability. However, in the U.S., there are no such guidelines for a forest bathing environment. Questions raised include: Is being in a forest really that important to Forest Bathing? Could a person forest bathing in different environments such as a beach, desert, or parks? According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, forest therapy “is a research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion in a forest and other natural environments.” The last “and” answers that a forest isn’t really that necessary to experience the benefits of forest bathing.
There are studies that show that maybe you can get benefits from Forest Bathing without even going outdoors. Studies by Roger Ulrich, of Texas A and M, concluded that “environments nature-related imagery, such as photographs or paintings on the wall, reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and reduce pain.” Looking at a picture of a beach may be healing.
The virtual environment may help those who are unable to enjoy the outdoors due to physical limitations or just living in an area where nature is just not as accessible. Games such as Firewatch, a walking simulator set Shoshone National Forest, offers a free roam mode, where the player can explore and wander aimlessly. In Flower, (a game I’ve seen Mr. Squigglekins play on Playstation Now), the player is a petal that floats endlessly in the breeze. Walden, A Game, is an adaptation of Henry David Thoreau‘s life in the woods.
Even if you may not be close to a forest, it’s good to get outdoors once in awhile. Take the time to walk and stand still, and take in smells, sights, and noise. Appreciate it and be at peace.
Aubrey, A. (2017, July 17). Forest Bathing: A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood. Retrieved February 03, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/17/536676954/forest-bathing-a-retreat-to-nature-can-boost-immunity-and-mood
Haile, R. (2017, June 30). ‘Forest Bathing’: How Microdosing on Nature Can Help With Stress. Retrieved February 03, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/06/forest-bathing/532068/
Shinrin-Yoku Forest Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2018, from http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html