Forest Bathing: Coming to a woodland near you

The term “forest bathing” appears in popular media a lot these days. A recent Washington Post article refers to it as yoga, 30 years ago. If it is new to you, however, you are not alone. 

A forest bathing session is not a hike or a run, says certified nature and forest therapy guide Alexandra Lowry of Middletown, CT. Neither is it a foray into plant, animal, bird, or insect identification.

“Forest bathing is a sensory-oriented, contemplative walk, somewhat like the meditation walks used by various religious traditions,” says Lowry. “We slow down, breath, rest among trees, and remove technology. We do very little talking.”

When Lowry leads a session, she covers about two miles in two hours. (That’s about one-third the pace a healthy person can walk.) “But some leaders do much less walking, going perhaps only a half mile in two hours,” she says. 

She is quick to add that anyone can do this by themselves. “But just like taking a yoga class, many people find it nice to be led, to let someone else facilitate.”

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries set off the phenomenon when it started promoting the practice of “taking in the forest atmosphere” for health and wellbeing in 1982. The Ministry coined the term “shinrin-yoku,” which roughly translates to “forest bathing” in English.

The healing benefits come from several sources, but it is the appreciation for essential oils that trees exude—phytoncides—that sets forest bathing apart from other woodland retreats. These oils are protective shields for the trees, fending off insects and diseases.

It turns out they are good for us as well. For evidence, Nature and Forest Therapy Guides’ website offers links to numerous research papers and articles that document positive outcomes for people with diabetes, PTSD victims, people with ADHD, chronic pain sufferers, people with high blood pressure, and those with compromised immune systems. The research comes from Japan, Australia, the UK, Scandinavia, and the US. (See www.natureandforesttherapy.org/the-science.html.)

Another positive feature of forest bathing is that it is available to people with a wide range of physical abilities. If you’re not in peak hiking condition, no worries.

Lowry conducted a number of forest bathing sessions for Connecticut Forest and Park Association in 2017. Check the CFPA website for upcoming events.

See the recent article on forest bathing at Zip06/TheDay