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Shinrin-Yoku: The art of bathing in the forest

Shinrin-Yoku or ‘forest bathing’ is a Japanese practice of contemplative walking in the forest and soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the natural setting. Developed in the 1980s, Shinrin-Yoku has become a cornerstone of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine. It draws on thousands of years of intuitive knowledge, providing a powerful antidote to modern life and helps us create a profound connection with nature. Scientists in Japan have done a great deal of research into Shinrin-Yoku and its benefits and have proved that spending time in the forest has a positive and calming effect on our bodies and minds. Benefits include a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure and heart rate, accelerated recovery from trauma or illness and improved overall feelings of wellbeing. Studies in other countries, including the US and Finland, have shown similar decreases in tension and anxiety.

“If you are a city-dweller, a simple dose of nature could improve your physical health and wellbeing”

Trees and plants emit phytoncides, antimicrobial organic compounds, which we breathe in when we’re in the forest, that are said to boost our immune systems. One study showed that men who took two-hour walks in the forest over two days, had a 50 percent spike in natural killer cells, which are critical to our immune systems because they help our bodies fight disease. Women who logged four hours in the forest on two consecutive days also saw an almost 40 per cent surge in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Another US study also showed that participants had a 50 per cent improvement in creative problem-solving after three days immersed in nature without access to technology. The meditative nature of being in the forest releases us from the distractions of modern life and allows our brains to be free and to reset. Combined with this, are the well-established benefits of being outdoors within nature, such as improved sleep and more energy.

The exact mechanisms of Shinrin-Yoku remain unknown but there are now a vast number of accredited Shinrin-Yoku forests in Japan, conducting research and aiming at establishing forest therapy around the world. If you are a city-dweller, a simple dose of nature could improve your physical health and wellbeing. 

How to bathe well in the forest

  • Like bathing in water, bathing in the forest is not a competition. It is a personal experience, accessible to everyone, and fulfils an intrinsic yearning to reconnect with nature, to which we are all inextricably linked.
  • The practice is a technology-free one so you must leave your phone, camera and any other distractions behind, to allow yourself to be fully present.
  • The intention of Shinrin-Yoku is to connect with nature. It requires walkers to be mindful, noticing and appreciating the forest, to feel the dense heaviness of the mud or leaves beneath your feet, hear the sweet sound of birdsong and admire the delicate and intricate colours of the leaves, branches and plants.
  • You can gently wander, take time to stand still or sit and observe nature around you. There are no rules other than being present and respecting nature. If you are walking with someone else, resist the urge to talk.
  • Shinrin-Yoku is not a rushed affair and its primary goal is not exercise but to inspire awe and wonder. This is a fantastic way to increase our depth of experience and understanding of the world around us.