The latest wellness trend to hit the US comes from Japan — but it's not a product, or a pill, or a kind of food . . . it's an experience. And if you live in a city, this experience can be transformative.
Meet forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, which actually has nothing to do with a bathtub. The concept? Just spend time in a forest, and breathe in the fresh air. Seriously, it's that simple. And it's going to help your body in more ways than one. In fact, it's been practiced in Japan since the 1980s for its medical and mental benefits.
While a trip outside into a peaceful wooded area might sound appealing enough on its own, forest bathing advocates tout its legitimate healing power, like relieving stress and improving physical health. And not only does being in the presence of nature promote a sense of calm, but breathing in forest air can be more than refreshing; the phytoncides — essential oils from wood — in the air from the trees are antimicrobial and can boost your immune system and might even prevent cancer, according to a 2007 study.
Trees produce these phytoncides to protect themselves from rotting, or being eaten by insects or animals, and apparently this organic compound can help humans, too. Another study showed that "data indicate[d] that phytoncides significantly enhance human NK activity," — "NK" meaning natural killer cells, or cells in your body that fight tumours and cancer.
A 2010 medical paper took a look at studies across 24 forests in Japan, examined shinrin-yoku's affect on health, and found that "forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments," and noted that more research will be dedicated to "forest medicine" as a form of preventative medicine.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation cited multiple studies that showed forest bathing and simply spending time in nature can improve the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve mood, increase ability to focus (including in children with ADHD), accelerate recovery from illness or surgery, increase your energy level, and improve sleep. A small study in 1998 also showed that forest bathing can effectively help diabetic patients.
Like earthing and grounding, using forest bathing as a form of therapy is an all-natural, low-cost way to release tension and balance your body out. And aside from the plethora of benefits for your brain and body, it's always a nice escape to get away from the city if that's where you spend the bulk of your time.
Can't make it to the woods this weekend? Try visiting park in your area, or diffuse some forest-scented natural oils while meditating at home (balsam fir and Japanese cypress might make you feel like you're really there!).