The term ‘forest bathing’ – or shinrin-yoku – was coined in 1982 in Japan when it became part of the country’s national health programme. The concept is simple; spend some leisurely time beneath trees and come away feeling rejuvenated. While the idea of boosting your health by spending time outdoors isn’t new, and is quite intuitive, forest bathing is designed to be a mindful meditation while outdoors.
People wanting to start the practice are invited to explore a forest very slowly. This is not a brisk, outdoor walk to get the blood pumping. Instead, you should leave all your electronic equipment at home and allow all your senses to take in your surroundings; from the sound of the rustling leaves to the feel of the bark beneath your fingers.
While it is perfectly possible to find a green corner of the world to practice it yourself, it’s also becomingly increasingly popular to hire a guide or attend a dedicated event, to help lead your experience. California is considered the western centre of the forest therapy but there have been events popping up everywhere in the world and you can even become a certified guide or practitioner.
Mindfulness, physical activity and time spent outdoors all have a significant positive impact on our health but research into forest bathing suggests this goes beyond just de-stressing. A 2007 study examined blood samples from forest bathers before and after their walk under the trees. Afterwards, there was a notable increase in a type of white blood cell commonly known as the ‘natural killer cells’ for their role in fighting cancer, tumours and some types of infection.
While some of this may be attributed to a holistic physiological improvement in mood, it also could be down to phytoncide, a chemical compound emitted by plants which can boost the immune system.
Want to try it yourself? Thankfully this is one travel trend that is easy on the wallet; simply find a beautiful forest and go!