Posted by: Jack Henry | April 26, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Forest Bathing

Today I received an email containing the term forest bathing. My first thought was of people running naked through Douglas Fir, Redwood, Madronas, and other forest trees in Washington state. Why naked? Because they’re bathing!

My next thought was, “How could I have never heard of this? I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where there was a lot of “New Age” history, beliefs, and crystal-loving, so forest bathing seems to fit in with the New Age philosophies. One of my stepmom’s friends even built a yurt, where she does counseling in a down-to-earth and one-with-earth atmosphere. A yurt is a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey. [KC – And the Pacific Northwest.]

So, what is forest bathing? The short answer is: it is the “practice of being in nature, especially an area with trees, as an act of sensory immersion undertaken for physiological and psychological health benefits.”

Okay. I personally love being out in nature because it is beautiful, relaxing, peaceful, invigorating, etc. But I’d never heard of this. Well, forest bathing is a thing! Kaiser Permanente, a huge hospital group in the United States, has a Facebook® page and articles about how forest bathing can improve your health. National Geographic posted an article with its top five places to forest bathe (which I couldn’t get to without subscribing). TIME magazine posted an article by a Chinese man, Qing Li, who is the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine and a big promoter of forest bathing.

Here are some details about it from the National Geographic article:

Whether you call it a fitness trend or a mindfulness practice (or a bit of both), what exactly is forest bathing? The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”). The purpose was twofold: to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.

The Japanese quickly embraced this form of ecotherapy. In the 1990s, researchers began studying the physiological benefits of forest bathing, providing the science to support what we innately know: time spent immersed in nature is good for us. While Japan is credited with the term shinrin-yoku, the concept at the heart of the practice is not new. Many cultures have long recognized the importance of the natural world to human health.

And from Qing Li’s TIME article mentioned above:

The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.

Whether you decide to try it or not, now you know what it is! My only recommendation is that you don’t bathe in a forest full of bears, at least not with a snack in your pocket!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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