Feeling stressed? Try “Forest Bathing” on your next self-care day
What does a moment of calm look like for you? For some, cleaning the house and meal prepping is medicine for the mind. Others love a bubbly bath and yummy-smelling face masks (oohhh, just writing that sounds lovely). In truth, finding the right stress-relieving activity for you and your lifestyle takes experimentation and self-observation. But if you’re looking for something new to channel more zen vibes amid all the ever-changing tides of life, you might want to consider “forest bathing.”
What is “forest bathing” and why should I try it?
Forest bathing, known as Shinrin-yoku, is a Japanese practice, which essentially means taking in the forest through our senses. According to TIME, it’s less about the activity of hiking or jogging, and more about the experience of being in nature.
Similar to how “sounds baths” foster meditation through sound, forest bathing cultivates mindfulness through conscious movement in the natural world. The idea: by slowly putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on your senses, you’ll forge a special bond with Mother Earth and inherently break down this idea of the environment as being separated from us. And it’s not only a beautiful way to connect with nature, but it’s also proven to decrease stress levels.
A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that people who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) than those who strolled through a city environment. And another study showed that when people lived closer to trees, they had a better “amygdala integrity” — a brain structure better able to manage stressors.
It’s likely many of us don’t even need studies to show us the therapeutic impact of trees on our mental health. An obvious answer can be traced to the fact that trees release the oxygen we breathe. But there’s also something that’s hard to explain about the feeling of being near trees. It’s grounding, soothing, encouraging. It’s the sensation of feeling small, yet also a part of something so big and unbelievably beautiful. Like the quote by poet Kahlil Gibran: “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.”
How to go forest bathing
Ready to give it a go? Great! The good news is you don’t have to live in a remote forest or in a cabin in the woods to go forest bathing. Of course, if you happen to live in either of those areas, it won’t hurt! But whether you’re in a park you’ve been to hundreds of times before or venturing on a trail you’re experiencing for the first time, the key to forest bathing is rather simple: get quiet, tune in to your surroundings, and slow down.
Simple tips to get you started:
- Find a place with trees: Ideally, pick a place where you can walk aimlessly without a particular destination in mind. Parks, trails, and gardens are equally lovely options.
- Pay attention to your senses: How does your body feel as you put one foot in front of the other? Is your mind quiet or racing? Does the air feel different? Check-in with yourself without judgment.
- Listen & look around: As you slow down, you’ll likely notice pockets of beauty like interesting shaped leaves or funny habits of squirrels.
- Wear comfortable shoes: The first time I went “forest bathing” I wore new running shoes that were a half-size too small. And I couldn’t think about anything besides my cramped pinky toes. Not great! We love Allbirds because they’re SO soft and comfortable, and easy to wash afterward. (Note: while they aren’t vegan because they’re made with merino wool, they do use other planet-friendly materials like eucalyptus trees.)
- Stay hydrated & bring SPF: And bring any other emergency essentials. Safety first.
You can also hire a guide if you feel more at ease with an experienced trainer, but it’s not necessary. And if you’re hoping to learn more, we recommend the forest bathing book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Qing Dr. Li.
More than anything, be patient with yourself. As long as you put down you’re phone, you’re doing it “right.”
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