Take A Forest Bath

by Linda Wiggen Kraft

Taking a bath in the forest is not what Forest Bathing is. It is taking a leisurely walk in the woods so that your body, mind and spirit can be bathed in the beauty, fragrance, sounds and sensual experiences of nature. Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is the official Japanese term for taking a walk in the forest. It is an activity recommended by the Forest Agency of Japan for over twenty-five years as a way to reduce stress and increase relaxation.

Most of us who have spent time in woods and nature know of its rejuvenating and healing power. We couldn’t quantify it in any way, but in Japan there are numerous scientific studies that show the healing qualities of Forest Bathing go way beyond relaxation. Dr. Qing Li, MD, PhD, is a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. He is a forest researcher, and part of a Forest Medicine program for medical students. Dr. Li’s research has found positive effects from Forest Bathing, including enhancement of the immune system with an increase of NK cells that fight cancer. His studies have also found an increase in energy and relaxation, and a decrease in anxiety, depression, emotional confusion and anger. His research compared Forest Bathers with others who spent time in urban settings and found that these positive effects did not happen outside of the forest. Other measurable benefits were an increase in a hormone that helps with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. Some of these effects continued for over a month after Forest Bathing.

One of the key healing components is the scent of the forest. Trees emit essential oils that are brought into the body via breath and help in healing. It is also the other sensual experiences of the forest setting that influence healing.

Both urban and rural forests have their positive effects. For Forest Bathing what is important is to have enough trees to create a forest. The wooded area should be at least 1.25 acres. There should be a minimum of ten percent sky coverage by the tree canopy with easily accessible trails that are inviting and draw people into the woods. Narrow hard to follow trails that are covered in too many trees may not feel as welcoming. A leisurely walk, with rest stops if needed are recommended. A twenty minute walk is long enough to show positive changes, but for deeper healing that increases cancer fighting cells, a longer time over several days is recommended.

In Japan and South Korea there are sanctioned Forest Therapy Bases that are used for short walks and walks taking place at various times over several days. We don’t need to travel to Japan to enjoy Forest Bathing though. Both our urban and rural parks offer plenty of access to receive the benefits and healing properties of the forest. Dr. Li recommends that a person enjoy the forest through all the five senses, even touching the trees and leaves to feel their textures. Listen for the birds and wind. Smell the earth and plants. And if there are safe parts of the forest to taste, do so. See all the beauty and bath in it all.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer whose work centers around holistic and sustainable gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog or website at www.CreativityForTheSoul.com. Contact her at 314 504-4266.