Escapism comes in many forms. Some like to get lost in a book or a favorite film; others, a bottle of whiskey. Known for their unique and at times bizarre rituals for escaping the daily grind of modern adult life, the Japanese have concocted a new form of stress relief – and it’s supported by science. Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”, has been enjoyed by health enthusiasts and burnt-out office workers in Japan since the 1980’s, and the practice has recently made its way to the US.
What is Shinrin-yoku?
Put simply, forest bathing is a leisurely visit to a forest for the purpose of relaxation and improving one’s health. In order for it to be effective, there should be absolutely zero distractions from the outside world: no junk food, no watch, and definitely no cell phone. Once you have made your way far enough into the forest to be free from any outside distraction, your only task is to just “be”. If this sounds too simple, it’s supposed to; the only rule of forest bathing is that it should be entirely effortless.
Taking the occasional break from the city to experience nature has always been considered a generally good idea; now, research conducted in Japan has proven the numerous health benefits of this practice. Between 2004 to 2012, Japan spent roughly four million dollars studying the psychological and physiological effects of forest bathing.
The benefits of forest bathing on both body and mind are myriad. The psychological benefits of shinrin-yoku include improved mood, increased ability to focus, and lower instances of depression, stress, and anxiety. Physically, studies have reported boosted immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure, lower pulse rate, lower concentrations of cortisol, accelerated recovery from illness, increased energy, and improved sleep.
Who benefits most from forest bathing?
Anyone with access to a forest. The beauty of shinrin-yoku is its simplicity; there is no training required and there are no rules to follow aside from simply existing in nature without distraction. For those who rarely make it out of the city, separate studies have shown that even spending two hours in a park with a high density of trees can have positive effects on depression and hypertension.