The term ‘forest bathing’ seems almost redundant, but with the hours that most people spend indoors, it’s become necessary to distinguish and carve out time to spend in nature. Forest bathing shouldn’t be mistaken as another therapy that humans should ‘consume,’ but a return to something fundamental; to ourselves and where we came from.
The archetypal ‘escape into the woods’ has been around as long as the industrial revolution and it was once a footpath seldom trodden, except for a special few including Henry David Thoreau. In the last two decades, forest bathing has entered popular consciousness, now that technology occupies ever increasing corners of our world. You can see it in books about rewilding, the movie Into The Wild and musicians like Bon Iver writing his first album in the snow-covered woods.
“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer
Following the ‘death by overwork’ phenomenon in Japan in the 1980’s, 4 million dollars’ worth of studies were conducted between 2004 and 2012. They found tangible evidence of the importance of returning to the natural world, that culminated into a practice called ‘forest bathing.’ Studies at the Nippon Medical School in Japan discovered essential oils in the forest called phytoncide, a compound emitted by trees to protect themselves from germs and insects. ‘Fresh air’ is more than a figure of speech — it turns out that inhaling it improves the immune system. Spending time among trees is also found to lower cortisol, pulse rate, blood pressure and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, making it the ideal cure for urban malaise.
Forest bathing involves an intentional pilgrimage into nature that combines walking, community and mindfulness.
There are 1,500 accredited forest bathing guides around the world that facilitate groups and lead walks that include time spent sitting, observing and experiencing their surroundings mindfully. Forest bathing is one avenue, but there are many other ways to integrate nature into your weekly routine without joining a group, here are a few ideas:
Exercise or find a hobby in nature
Whether it’s combining an interest in foraging, photography, rock climbing, surfing, or hiking, making sure at least one exercise or hobby involves spending time outdoors, will bring nature into your weekly routine, rather than adding another task on the to-do list.
Treat nature as your lounge room
If you need a weekend nap, why not sleep at the beach under an umbrella? Instead of reading a book on the couch, head to the park and find a nice tree to lean against. Perhaps it’s a picnic on the grass with friends instead of going to a café, or a cup of tea every morning in your backyard — get creative and think of all the moments in your life you could use nature as your lounge room instead. Similar to how you’d behave in your lounge room, make sure you kick your shoes off too, this practice is called ‘earthing’ and it has its own host of benefits including better sleep and reducing stress.
Book a camping trip
“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains. — Walt Whitman
There’s nothing quite like escaping to natural landscapes with zero phone reception. It removes the temptation to check your phone 24/7 and gives you time to do nothing but read, write and enjoy being in nature. Camping connects us to the natural world like nothing else and even just spending one night at a national park can feel like a complete reboot for the body, mind and soul. The difference between a day at the beach and a few days camping is that after you emerge from the wilderness, you notice the presence of the man-made world much more than before, which highlights the importance of taking a break from it.