Wilton Naturalist: Taking a ‘bath’ in the forest
Have you taken a bath in the forest recently? A new practice originating from Japan called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is not a physical bath with water and soap, but more of a mental and physical cleansing that arises from spending time around trees. You don’t even need to be in a forest. Just near trees.
Spending time in forest environments has many benefits for our physical and mental well-being. Forest bathing can reduce stress and improve mood, as well as boost our immune systems, reduce high blood pressure, and accelerate recovery from illness. Reducing stress and improving mood can help us block away distractions.
Our bodies have five senses and it really likes when we use them. Being out in nature and in the forest engages all five of our senses. Studies have found that hospital patients who have a window looking out to nature — or even just a poster of a tree — have better pain tolerance and shorter recovery time. The smell of conifers (evergreens) can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and reduce blood pressure. Hearing the sounds of birds or rainfall does the same thing. For touch, there are many benefits to walking barefoot. We have a lot of sensory nerves in our feet and hands and it feels good to use them. Take a few steps barefoot in soft grass or sand and see how good it makes you feel. (As for taste, perhaps it’s best to play it safe and avoid testing that sense out in the forest.)
For those of us who may not live near a forest, we can get similar effects from being near even just a single tree in a local park or our backyards. All trees give off oxygen that we can breathe in. We in return give back the carbon dioxide we expel from our bodies. We are all connected to each other and the earth and when we find time to relax into that relationship it makes for a beautiful system.
Williams, F. (2017). The Nature Fix. New York: Norton Paperback.
Sam Nunes is an environmental educator at Woodcock Nature Center.