The Healing Nature of Forest Bathing
(The first in a two-post blog series)
Most people will tell you they feel better after a walk in the woods. Researchers can now identify why. Their findings have given rise to growing interest in a Japanese mind-body practice known as forest bathing (shinrin-yoku). It doesn’t involve standing under a woodsy waterfall, swimming in a stream pool, or a trail walk in the rain. In fact, forest bathing rarely involves water.
Forest bathing is gaining popularity in the U.S., based on research-backed programs in Japan, where the practice has become standard preventive medicine. In fact, dozens of Japanese scientific and medical studies show that chilling in the woods can lower blood pressure, improve mood, reduce stress, and kill cancer cells. The Japanese government identified the term, shinrin-yoku in 1982, but the practice is actually inspired by ancient Japanese rituals that involve inviting nature to enter your body through all five senses.
The aim of forest bathing, as described by NPR reporter Allison Aubrey in a broadcast of “Morning Edition,” is “to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment.” Aubrey reported on her experience on Theodore Roosevelt Island—an 88.5-acre island and national memorial located in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. She joined a group of forest bathers and a certified forest therapy guide, who helped them “tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest.” She noted, “As we passed through a stand of pawpaw trees, we touched the bark. We smelled the black walnuts, which give off a lovely citrus fragrance. We got a little shower of ripe mulberries, too.”
In seeking a medical opinion for her report, Aubrey interviewed Philip Barr, MD, who specializes in integrative medicine at Duke University, Durham, N.C. "Forest bathing could be considered a form of medicine," Dr. Barr told Aubrey. "And the benefits of nature can be accessed so simply."
In addition to forest bathing, research backs other mind-body practices that help to reduce distress and enhance well-being while living with cancer. They include meditation, guided breathing and imagery, yoga, Qi(chee)gong, tai chi, and more. Incorporating a mind-body practice into your daily routine can help you to self-manage emotional stress.
Aubrey, A. “Forest Bathing: A Retreat to Nature Can Boost Immunity and Mood.” Morning Edition. NPR News, WITF, 17, July, 2017. Retrieved from npr.org, August 10, 2017.
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947-3955.
Clay, R. (2001). Green is good for you. American Psychological Association, 32(4), 40.
Herzog, A. M., Black, K. A., Fountaine, D. J., & Knotts, T. R. (1997). Reflection and attentional recovery as two distinctive benefits of restorative environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 17, 165-170.
Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Dasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 18-26.
Selhub, E. & Logan, A. (2014). Your brain on nature. Mississagua, Ontario, Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Canada Ltd.