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What Forest Bathing Is — and Isn't

Updated: May 11, 2023

Insight into the trending practice.

Immersing yourself in the atmosphere of Nature to engage + activate all the senses, turn off the mind — and just be.

The term Shinrin-yoku was coined in the 1980s by the Japanese, as part of an effort to get citizens out to enjoy the forest and parks systems. It literally means "forest bathing," which puts some on edge. Think of it more along the lines of sunbathing, where you are soaking in the rays, or sound healing—where you are surrounded and completely absorbed by the sounds around you. It makes sense for some to consider it nature immersion or nature connection.

Forest Bathing Is Not:

  • Soaking or washing up in a lake, river or stream as in a tub or showering in water to clean your body! While it is a stress cleanse, there is no soaping up. We do, however, sometimes interact with water in simple ways.

  • A cardio hike or workout! You will not break a sweat — unless Nature brings us a hot day! If you know going slowly will be super edgy for you, perhaps get some cardio in first, to let you lean into the forest bath.

  • A naturalist tour. Facts and data help us understand, categorize and define Nature. We are exploring a different way of knowing, an openness to Nature through the senses.

  • Psychotherapy. Yes, guides who, like me, are certified through Association of Forest and Nature Therapy do carry the word "therapy" in their title — but it refers to the therapeutic effects of time with Nature, not a session with a psychologist (though some guides are trained as both, and entwine the two practices to serve clients). Think of it this way: The forest is the therapist, Nature provides the healing we each individually need — the guide knows how to open the door.

  • Mindfulness. I like to think of it more as meditative mindlessness — once we activate our senses, to me it feels as if my mind is freed from the daily spin, perhaps because it is in service of the noticing the sensorial pleasures Nature provides in the present moment. The two meditative practices are excellent companions. Personally I find that after forest bathing or time in Nature, I am better able to drop into a mindfulness practice, with less struggle. In fact, it is through a long struggle that I realized my walks in Nature were getting me to the same place I'd hoped to arrive through my hard-fought mindfulness practice. I appreciate the words of a mindfulness meditation teacher who said it not necessarily for everyone—or that everyone has to find their own way with it. My path to meditation is through the woods.

Forest Bathing Is:

  • Short-distance. We may cover only a half-mile on some walks. When you slow down, you can truly see Nature's rich pageant.

  • Meditative Sensory Experiencing—not meditative thought noticing.

  • Sense opening. Stress dulls our sensing. In forest bathing we walk away from stress, by activating our senses.

  • Relaxing.

  • Healing. Japanese scientists, and then researchers around the world, have studied the positive health and wellbeing effects of time in Nature. The evidence validates and explains what we all know: Being in Nature makes us feel good. (Check back: More coming soon on the science, which is fascinating!)

  • Slowing down. We do as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Adopt the pace of Nature—her secret is patience."

  • Noticing details.

  • Pleasure-seeking.

  • A felt sense—of place, of Nature, of experience.

  • Restorative, rejuvenating—even invigorating. "I went to the woods and came out taller than the trees," wrote Thoreau. For me, this has been the outcome of each walk in my personal practice.

  • Interconnectedness. Being in relationship with Nature, not simply passing by and upon it. And, for some, being in greater or deeper relationship with oneself.

  • Reciprocity with Nature, a shared experiencing.

  • Peaceful + Quiet. Most of each walk proceeds in silence (and with cell phones off) to prevent distraction.

  • Fun. Some invitations or prompts are playful and inventive. That inner child always loved playing outside.

  • Cathartic. Some experience deep emotions.

  • Creative. Leaving the chaos of daily life allows others to find that an answer or idea suddenly bubbles up.

  • Possible anywhere there is a bit of nature to engage with. Could be your city or state park, a tree along the sidewalk, Big Nature in the wilderness, an arboretum or botanical garden, your favorite green thumb's flower bed, or even a rock in your backyard (that's where my sit spot is).

  • Easy. There is no wrong way to engage. All that matters is that you walk openly—of mind, senses and heart.

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