To bathe in the forest is to allow the soft light, wisdom of trees and sounds of woodland wildlife wash over you, carry away the trappings of our overscheduled days and slow down to meet the primeval pulse of the world.
The hard corners and blue light of our built environment can start to wear on the body and clutter the mind. Carve out some time for a trip to the best and least expensive spa on earth – nature – for the soul-filling experience of shinrin-yoku, which literally means “forest bathing.”
Forest bathing is the experience of plunging into nature as if it were a bath, letting it wash through all the senses. The concept of forest bathing was developed in Japan and the phrase coined in 1982. Forest bathing is more than a hike – it is a meditative and grounding interaction with nature. Walking through the forest aimlessly but attentively draws one closer to the magic and wisdom of the world.
Disconnecting with the human world of machines and concrete and reconnecting with nature provides more than fresh air and a new perspective. Scientific studies have revealed substantial physical and mental benefits to forest bathing. Surround yourself with calming green leaves in the woods to lower blood pressure and stress hormones. Bend down and breathe in the musky earth and moss, because the scent of the forest carries organic compounds known to strengthen the immune system. Delight in the breeze and noises of the earth and feel tension soften, anger diffuse and melancholy dissipate.
Where to Go
An excursion into sites like the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington, Shiretoko National Park in Hokkaidō or the Monteverde Cloud Forest in the highlands of Costa Rica would lead to deep forest medicine experiences. Locations with great biodiversity, which means choruses of birdsong and healthy forest fauna, greatly enhance the physiological and psychological boons of forest bathing.
However, forest bathing doesn’t require remote, unending miles of old growth trees. Shinrin-yoku is accessible to all. Find a natural area near you and plunge yourself into it, no matter how small. A city park or botanical garden – even an abandoned lot overgrown with brush – can allow you to turn focus to the plants and animals and follow their stories while you calm your own.
Finding the right spot for you is key to a fulfilling connection. Some woodlands will bring you happier bathing experiences than others. You might prefer to wander near a body of water or the scent of the cedar trees. Your spot might feel familiar or foreign, but provides that something special that you alone find comfort in.
What to Bring
Dress with intention in clothing that is comfortable for movement and the right layers for the expected weather. It never hurts to carry water while on a stroll. Whether you bring along a beautiful crystal water bottle for an added burst of positive energy or an insulated water bottle for keeping beverages cold while on your excursion, make sure to choose a light vessel that sparks joy for you.
Forest bathing is a time for observation and experience, but perhaps your forest frolicking will take an interlude on a bench or soft ground. Tuck a notebook in your bag for a moment of reflection or expression. You can bring family and friends on a forest bathing journey, but commit to moments of peace and quiet to commune with nature before returning to conversation.
Once You’ve Arrived
Wander with abandon and joy! Shinrin-yoku allows you to venture beyond human structures of your everyday life and into the natural world. Open your mind to learning and cleansing among the natural formations and growth.
Utilize all five senses:
- Breathe deeply.
- Taste the rain or sun-soaked breeze.
- Close your eyes and trail your hands down the bark of a tree to feel its texture.
- Let your feet do the talking as they guide your natural adventure.
- Listen to the tiny and vast sounds of the natural world at work.
When to Go
Shinrin-yoku can occur at any time of the day or night. In fact, visiting your forest bathing sites at different times will reveal new natural narratives. Your local patch of green will present completely different views, smells and sounds at 6:00am and 6:00pm.
The same goes for seasons: forest bathing happens in space, but also time – snow, rain, sun, and wind bring their own revelations to the patient observer.
If you don’t have time during a busy week to head to the forest, take a moment to breathe in nature at home through aromatherapy. Inspire memories of past shinrin-yoku with the scents of trees. Take hinoki, the beloved Japanese Cedar, into the bath with a woody hinoki body wash. Let the aromatic cypress transport you to a quiet, ancient grove when you get dressed in the morning and open a drawer containing an earthy wood sachet. Give yourself a hand massage between meetings with a spruce and pine scented body salve. Care for your house plants, watch the ladybug stroll across the windowpane, and inhale deeply. These natural totems will tide you over until you can return to your own forest bathing ritual.