Girl hikes through the forest

Healing in the forest: a guide to forest bathing

Let’s take a walk in the woods.

With no specific destination in mind, we will wander, observe and immerse ourselves in nature. Allow our senses to guide us.

When was the last time you walked into the woods with no plans? No final destination? Without a species to ID, hill to climb, or lookout to conquer?

This is exactly the experience offered by a forest bathing session.

What is forest bathing?

Sunlight shines through trees in a forest

Forest bathing, forest therapy, or Shinrin-yoku, was developed in Japan in the 1980s.

There is a large amount of scientific evidence surrounding the health benefits of spending time in nature. Because of this, forest bathing became an integral part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

The idea is that when humans spend time in a natural setting, especially under the canopy of a forest, they experience rejuvenating benefits to the mind, body and spirit.

This is not a novel concept. Traditionally people sought the restorative benefits of the forest as part of their everyday life.

However, with the increase of industry and modern civilization, we moved away from the forest and into the hustle and bustle of the city. We lost touch with nature.

The healing benefits

Two kids in the forest

It is well known that spending time in nature is good for your health, but what kind of benefits do we actually see?

People who spend time in the forest experience decreased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which can help relieve high blood pressure, heart conditions, skin conditions, and asthma.

High stress levels can compromise your immune system. By reducing these levels your body’s natural defense system is able to work its magic. Trees release oils into the air, called phytoncides, and inhaling these natural essences can actually help to boost your immune system.

Spending time in nature and experiencing reduced stress levels allows you to think more clearly and creatively. It can also increase your mood, focus, and energy.

For more of the science behind time in nature, click here.

How to participate in forest therapy

Trail sign on a tree

It’s simple! To start, find a forest near you. It could be a forested area in your neighbourhood, a local conservation area, or a nearby provincial park.

Follow a trail into the forest. Once you are completely surrounded by nature stop, close your eyes, and engage your senses. Notice the smell of the earth, the sound of the birds, and the air moving across your skin.

If navigating your way through a forest bathing experience on your own seems a little overwhelming, there are many organizations that offer guided experiences. Check out the Association of Forest and Nature Therapy to find a program or guided opportunity near you.