Well, I wasn’t actually taking a bath in the forest, although the thought did cross my mind! The term forest bathing refers to being in nature and “soaking” up all of the amazing, awe inspiring energy that exists in the trees. And that is exactly what I did recently at a retreat in Scotts Valley, California. The retreat center just happened to be right in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest and I took full advantage of every opportunity to take a “bath” with the trees!
The idea of forest bathing started in Japan in the early 1980’s. They coined the phrase “Shinrin-Yoku” which means “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It has since become known as “forest bathing.” At the time, the Japanese people spent very little time out in nature. They had long commutes to work and their days were spent inside working in front of a computer. As a result, the depression and suicide rates began to soar. The officials of Japan recognized this alarming trend and knew that something needed to change. Researchers in Japan and Korea began studying the effects of spending time in the forest and realized the many health benefits. In fact, the benefits were so undeniable that between 2004 and 2012, they spent nearly $4 million dollars learning about the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing. This research is what led them to incorporate Shinrin-Yoku into a national public health program. Over half of Japan is occupied by forest so it makes sense that forest bathing has become an integral part of healing in Japanese medicine. Topiary therapy….I love it!!
The studies done over the years have confirmed that spending time in a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, improve sleep, increase energy, lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. One of the most significant findings was an increase in human natural killer cells (NK). I know that sounds like an ominous name for our cells but these guys are responsible for our immune system health and also cancer prevention. Must be why they call them killer cells! Anyway, research has shown that spending time in the forest can boost our NK cells. This is due to natural chemicals called phytoncides which are essential oils released by the trees to protect themselves from insects. Simply breathing in these essential oils strengthens our immune system. Don’t you love how nature works??
On my final day in California, I went for one last walk in the redwoods. As I headed down the road, I noticed some steps off to the side. Out of curiosity, I followed the stairs and came to a sign that said “here you will find peace and love.” I immediately got goose bumps. As I walked further, I stepped into a fairy ring of redwoods with a cross in the center and benches all around. The energy was palpable and I started to cry. I don’t know if they were tears of joy or tears of sadness, but I do know I definitely felt the peace and love in this space. Every time I think of that moment, I can recall that feeling. The energy of the trees is truly amazing!
I think intuitively we all know that being outdoors in nature is good for us. It is an escape from the digital world and all of the stress that goes along with that. But, forest bathing is much more than going for a hike in the woods. It is a mindfulness practice in which you utilize all of your senses to take in the healing power of the forest. Close your eyes and tune into the smells and sounds that are all around you. Touch the trees. Take off your shoes and feel the earth underneath your feet. Get grounded. The point is to relax rather than accomplish anything. That means no cell phones, no fit bits and no counting steps!! Just….be….with….the….trees 🙂
The practice of forest bathing is gaining momentum. In 2012, M. Amos Clifford founded the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy which trains people to be forest therapy guides. How cool would that be? I looked into it and the cost is around $3400 for a six month program. You have an initial week long intensive training and then a six month mentored practicum. The trainings are held in California, Florida, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Canada and New Zealand. Forest bathing in Slovenia??? I am adding that to my bucket list for sure!! If you are not feeling drawn to the six month training, Mr. Clifford wrote a book titled Your Guide to Forest Bathing. Here you will learn everything you need to know about forest bathing so you can become your own expert guide 🙂
So, what are you waiting for?? Head to a forest asap for a big dose of peace and love!! If you are sitting at your desk right now and can’t sneak away to a forest, look around for the nearest tree. They are all around just waiting for you. I am already planning my next trip to the redwoods, but until then, I have been hugging my big old mesquite tree in my front yard. My neighbors are probably wondering what the heck I am doing, but I don’t care. If they ask, I will tell them I am feeling the love!! (and boosting my natural killer cells!!)