When was the last time you got outside and hugged a tree or basked in birdsong? Well, according to mounting scientific research, forest bathing can help us fight stress, recover faster from illness, improve our cardiovascular health and boost concentration and memory. And yes, it can help us sleep better too. All we have to do is immerse ourselves in the sounds, scents, and sights of the forest.
What is forest bathing?
While the concept of ‘forest bathing’ sounds a little esoteric, it simply means supporting wellbeing by spending quiet, mindful time in nature. This relaxation practice was developed in Japan, and it invites you to take notice of the natural world, breathe deeply and calm your mind.
The term – and its deliberate practice – emerged in Japan in the 1980s as ‘shinrin-yoku’, which literally translates as forest bathing. It was a response to career-induced stress and burnout, and a way to to inspire urban dwellers to reconnect with and value their country’s forests. Scientists studied the physical and mental benefits of forest bathing, with research that supported what we know inherently – that regular, mindful time spent in nature is good for mind, body and spirit.
Forest bathing benefits
There are many scientifically documented and anecdotal benefits to regular, mindful time spent among trees. Forest bathing has been shown to boost immune function, lower blood pressure, speed up recovery from illness or surgery, increase energy and focus, and improve sleep. Shinrin-yoku needs no special equipment, expensive gym membership, or even relying on finding a ‘proper’ forest. It can be as easy and accessible as simply finding and spending time in a green space near you.
While shinrin-yoku has recently become known as an antidote to our fast-paced 21st Century life, the practice isn’t new. Most cultures have long understood the connection between human health and biophilia – our inherent need to be part of nature. It turns out our bodies know best: trees, and evergreens in particular, release airborne essential oils called phytoncides, which can naturally boost immunity and help us fight cancer.
Can forest bathing help us sleep better?
The short answer is yes. A 2015 University of Illinois study published in Preventive Medicine concluded that access to the natural environment reduced the likelihood of reporting insufficient sleep, particularly among men. And according to research by the University of Colorado in Boulder, being outside during daylight and sleeping in true darkness when camping for even just a weekend can change our circadian rhythm, which may help us fall asleep earlier.
Members of the Hyoumankind team regularly practise shinrin-yoku to reconnect with nature and feel calm and creative. Below are some of their tips.
How to get the best from forest bathing
While you can’t really get it wrong, here are a few ideas to get the most out of your time in nature.
Switch off: Disconnect from your busy life (and your phone).
Breathe: Listen to your breathing and observe its rhythm until it slows and deepens
Slow down: Walk slowly and mindfully, so you can immerse yourself in the green environment.
Sense: What do you see, hear, feel, smell? look up at the canopy, listen to birdsong, touch a tree, inhale the scents of earth and leaves, and ask yourself how the experience makes you feel.
Still: Stop and stand, or sit quietly and simply observe.
Stay: 30 minutes goes a long way, although two hours is even better.
Safe: If you intend to go off the trail or out of town, take safety precautions as you would on a normal hike.
- The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature.
- Sleep insufficiency and the natural environment: Results from the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey
- Effect of Forest Bathing Trips on Human Immune Function.
- Effect of Phytoncide from Trees on Human Natural Killer Cell Function.
- Forest Bathing Enhances Human Natural Killer Activity and Expression of Anti-Cancer Proteins.
- The Physiological Effects of Shinrin-Yoku (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing): Evidence from Field Experiments in 24 Forests Across Japan.