Last Sunday my mother and I went forest bathing on a secret, three-mile trail about fifteen minutes from where I live. I'd never heard of forest bathing, but I knew I was down to spend the morning in the woods because I was itching for something to do. Little did I know just how much forest bathing actually was, and how much it did for my mental health after a few hours.
Now, you're probably wondering what the heck forest bathing is. It is actually a translation for the Japanese term shinrin-yoku. The Japanese developed shinrin-yoku, aka forest bathing, in the 1980s as a method of preventative healthcare. Forest bathing has had profound positive effects on the mental and physical health of people who participate, according to years of research, and now forest bathing has become a sensation worldwide.
The production of your stress hormone, cortisol, is greatly reduced all from simply taking a leisurely silent stroll through the forest. That's right, it's completely silent. No one talks until the guide prompts you to do so. It's a bit weird at first, but the silence grows on you and really lets you focus on yourself. Forest bathing is all about relaxation. You're not supposed to rush through the forest, trying to burn calories. If you are, you're not doing it correctly.
Forest bathing is much like meditating. You're putting focus into your five senses in a way you might not have before. The things I heard and saw were all sights and sounds I would probably miss if I were hiking at a quick pace. The forest takes you away from the sights, sounds, and smells of an urban setting, so it's just you and the nature at it's rawest.
A few other benefits to forest bathing include decreased blood pressure, a boost to your immune system, accelerated healing from illness, and even a boost in that creative flow (which I so badly needed when I went). You don't really realize just how cathartic forest bathing is until you're in the middle of your walk and you realize you haven't had the anxious urge to check your phone once. All those anxious feelings about outside things going on in your life as absent. You're left with learning how to be at peace with yourself and addressing those demons or desires in an open, safe environment.
I've become a lot more of an anxious person the last couple of months and dealing with this hasn't been easy on me. Being back home for the summer has really helped, but I still have these moments of anxiousness paired together with sadness that I can't quite shake. The second I stepped into those woods I felt a sense of awe and calm. I've always loved nature and found special comfort in being among the trees with the birds singing and the breeze blowing through my hair.
Nature hugs you with its sights, sounds, and smells, and you hug it back with your sense of touch. I hugged a tree. Yup, I'm a tree hugger now, but it's not something to ever be ashamed of. In the few seconds I held the hug I felt the tree zap away the negativity inside of me. I felt cleansed and whole for the first time in a while.
Going into a quiet space where there was no one to judge me meant so much to me. Granted I was eaten alive by mosquitoes but that's something I'm pretty used to by now. Forest bathing will bring about a renewed sense of nostalgia and respect for the nature around you in a way you probably haven't felt for a long time. Even if you're an avid hiker or someone who loves spending time outside, you'll gain such a new perspective from the experience of forest bathing.
People with depression and anxiety are often prescribed forest bathing as a healing entity, and as someone who suffers from a bit or both, I can say it did wonders. Even after I left the forest, I felt so calm and at peace with myself in a different kind of way.
I 10/10 recommend trying forest bathing, regardless of your physical or mental health status. It will teach you that nature may be the best medicine there is.