AHL HEALTH & WELLNESS

Bathing Outside

The seasons are changing—have you had a chance to forest bathe?

Photo by Samuel Berner on Unsplash
A hidden temple in Mononoke Forest, Japan. Photo by Samuel Berner

Written by Alaska Gedeon. Edited by Raeann Mason on 12.08.21

What is forest bathing?

Historically known as Shinrin-yoku, the practice of forest bathing was termed in Japan in 1982. Forest bathing was a way of life formed into a therapy to help manage stress, depression and improve mental and physical health. This happened during the “Japanese economic miracle” when Japan’s economy grew 70% in a single year. We can imagine what type of anxiety comes with that type of growth. Stress produces stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and Nora-adrenal; and stress hormones cause mental and physical disease.

One great way to destress is to go for a jog or hike a trail in the woods to get a real sweat going, but this is not that. Shinrin-yoku is more like a walking meditation, being ultra present with nature and tapping into the Divine. Dr. Qing Li, the author of Forest Bathing, writes, “the forest is the realm of the Divine” where healing of the Spiritual/Physical takes place while replacing pharmaceutical medicine with forest medicine.

It is easy to get caught up in the stresses of life, the devices of our worlds, or just in our heads on any normal day. When dealing with a global pandemic, or adjusting to the new norms and PTSD from COVID-19, it’s easy for us to buckle down on our laptops and crank out some work, or bask in the luxury of our sheets, or binge on our favorite streaming series when traveling. But on your next trip, try to find some time to forest bathe.

How to forest bathe.

The belief is, if you can activate all five senses, you will awaken your sixth sense, the Sense of Happiness. Here are my favorite ways to activate the senses – give these methods a try. 

1. The sense of smell: 

Breathe in and smell the “phytoncides” in the air. Phytoncides help plants fight disease. The term phytoncides come from the Latin root words phyton, which means plant, and cides, which means kill. Another way to read it: exterminated by the plant. When we breathe in these chemicals our bodies respond by increasing the number of, and activity of white blood cells known as natural killer cells or NK.

Life Hack/Biohack:

If you don’t have a forest nearby, you can use essential oils that produce the same effect. Try Hinoki oil, Japanese cypress tree oil, Cypress oil,  Cedar oil, or Pine oil.

2. The sense of touch: 

Try walking barefoot. It’s similar to earthing or grounding, but with the focus on complete immersion. Feel the energy around you, take the time to touch the trees, and feel the trunks’ grooves. Hugging a tree is not required but encouraged.

Life Hack/Biohack:

Keep plants in your home and office if you don’t have a chance to get to a forest often. By simply having plants in your home to touch or just coexist with, you get the benefits of breathing in phytoncides, thereby decreasing stress, enhancing relationships, and boosting your immune system.

3. The sense of hearing: 

Listening to the forest’s organic soundscape is very spiritual and very scientific (we love both). Inorganic noise increases the function of the sympathetic nervous system, placing us in fight-or-flight mode, which induces cortisol production: aka the stress hormone, which promotes diseases—science. Organic sounds, on the other hand, stimulate the parasympathetic system’s rest-and-relax state. It’s the perfect place to slip into the Alpha state of mind (a place of deep relaxation while completely awake) or the Theta state of mind (where the mind is capable of deep learning, understanding, and healing)—spiritual.

Life Hack / Biohack:

If you live in a busy city or need help destressing at home, download or stream your favorite nature soundscapes playlist. Playing audio recordings of nature can boost mood, decrease stress, and even lessen pain. 

4. The sense of taste: 

Although it isn’t recommended to eat wild plants without being well educated in botany, simply tasting the air can stimulate your sense of taste. Since smell is tied closely to taste, breathing in deeply and mindfully, you can gain the advantages of tasting the forest without actually needing to eat anything you are unsure of. 

Life Hack / Biohack

Make yourself a plant based meal that takes little preparation. A wild-foraged-style salad is a perfect option. Be sure to include lots of leafy greens, berries, nuts, and seeds, and try your hand at a homemade forest inspired dressing like this one: 

DILL VINEGRETTE

  • 1/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • the zest from one orange (optional)

5. The sense of sight: 

Use the forest-scape to help alter your mood by gaining the psychological benefits of seeing greens & yellows. The color green is calming, motivating, keeps you feeling optimistic, boosts appetite, stimulates healthy living, and relaxes mind and body. The color yellow makes you feel happy and spontaneous, and yellow is perhaps the most energetic of the warm colors; and it’s associated with laughter, hope, and sunshine.

Life Hack / Biohack:

We know the benefits of keeping plants in the home, but why not add the colors green and yellow to your everyday lives? I don’t wear the colors enough but will begin to add them to my daily palette. Accessories, furniture, clothes, artwork–get creative with it. Try to fill our days with more green and yellow. A little sunshine and vegetation is good for the soul!

Illuminated forest in Alymer, ON, CA. Photo by Michael Krahn
Illuminated forest in Alymer, ON, CA. Photo by Michael Krahn
Foraging on Radium Springs Road, Albany, GA. Photo by Timothy L. Brock
Foraging on Radium Springs Road, Albany, GA. Photo by Timothy L. Brock

How much forest bathing do we need to make a noticeable difference?

To get the full effect of forest bathing, spend at least two nights and three days in the forest every 30 days. If you don’t have time to forest bathe or plan your next trip around visiting a national park, here is how you can get the basic benefits of forest bathing while on the go: 

  • One day for 6 hours minimum will boost your immune system. 
  • Spending 6 hours breathing in phytoncides, which have antibacterial and antifungal qualities that help plants fight disease–activate those natural killer cells.
  • One day for 2 hours will not be enough time to boost the immune system fully, but it is enough to activate the parasympathetic system and help you fight stress hormones.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out and need a break from your screen, try twenty minutes in a city park, this alone can decrease negative feelings, anxiety, and stress.
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