February 18, 2019
What on Earth is Forest Bathing?
The wellness trend that may be a cause of crowded hiking paths
Photo courtesy of IB Wira Dyatmika/Unsplash
By Natalie Shukur
writer for The Natural
It may seem a little absurd that a certified wellness practice has been borne out of something that is essentially free and accessible: connecting with nature. Yet, for city dwellers caught up in a high-pressure work cycle that demands a disproportionate amount of their time, an intentional method of getting outdoors among the trees is a service that could be worth considering.
“Forest bathing is the practice of taking a slow, mindful walk in the woods, honing into all five senses,” says Nicole Joy Elmgart, founder of New York-based forest bathing program Treebath, and member of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides (ANFT). Although it may sound like a gimmick aimed at American urbanites, forest bathing actually has roots in eastern culture. It’s based on the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, which translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere.”
“The practice started in Japan in the 1980’s when the government began doing research on how inner city workers could benefit from being in nature,” says Elmgart, whose NYC program incorporates this research-based framework for supporting healing and wellness through immersion classes in forests, local parks, and other natural environments. “The research showed that after spending time in the woods, people had lower levels of stress hormones, an increased number of cancer-killing cells, and overall improved mood,” she adds. “About four years ago, the ANFT was established in an effort to bring forest therapy to the western world.” The practice, says Elmgart, “certainly applies equally in western culture, as people in general don’t get outside enough today.”
Besides the common sense knowledge that getting out of the house or office is good for you, studies that highlight the positive effects of spending time outdoors offer new data that shows that it can help alleviate anxiety and depression, decrease the risk of obesity, and improve immune system function.
“Get out as often as possible!” says Elmgart. “Even though different organizations ‘recommend’ the right amount of sleep or exercise, its not always easy to find time. Our view is, getting outside in nature and taking a few deep breaths, even if it’s not as often as you’d like, is still good for you.”
Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.