The Art of Forest Bathing

Contributor: Kaia Roman
Photographer: Taylor Balding
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In Japan, “forest bathing” is a serious endeavor. Multiple scientific studies have shown the benefits of spending time in green spaces. Here’s why you should implement this simple practice into your wellbeing repertoire.

In Japan, going for a walk in the woods is more than just a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Shinrin-yoku, a term that means "taking in the forest atmosphere," or "forest bathing," is considered to be seriously good for you. 

Forest bathing became a focus of scientific studies in the 1980s in Japan and South Korea. Since then, extensive research has shown multiple health benefits of spending time in a forest. 

It’s a simple concept: go to areas that are lush with trees and take a relaxing walk. Most of us intuitively know this is beneficial because we instantly feel better when we’re surrounded by trees. But have you ever wondered why? 

Why is Forest Bathing So Good for You?

There are several reasons forest bathing makes you feel so good. For one, many trees emit natural compounds that boost our immune systems. Spending time in green spaces has been shown to increase the amount of white blood cells known as natural killer (NK) cells, part of the immune system responsible for fighting cancer. 

Research has also confirmed forest bathing’s positive effect on blood pressure, stress, mood, focus, recovery from illness or surgery, energy levels, creativity, and sleep. That’s a lot of good reasons to take a walk in the woods!

Negative is Positive

Another positive benefit of forest bathing is the high concentration of negative ions. Negative ions are oxygen atoms that contain an extra electron and therefore emit a negative charge. They are found in natural areas with fresh air—such as near waterfalls and yes, in forests—and have a positive effect on human biochemistry. 

In contrast, positive ions can have a detrimental effect on human health. These positively charged molecules have been linked to depression, fatigue, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, chronic cough, allergy symptoms, and impaired immune response. They’re found in high concentrations in homes and office buildings, especially when windows are kept closed. 

For example, the average concentration of negative ions in the air (measured per cubic centimeter) of a typical room with the air conditioner running is 0 to 20. In contrast, the negative ion content of the air in a breezy forest is 50,000 to 100,000! 

Walk With Nature

We don’t need science to tell us that spending time in nature is good for our souls. Naturalist and author John Muir understood these benefits clearly, writing more than 100 years ago:

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

The mountains are calling and I must go.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

Keep close to Nature’s heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

So if you’re looking to add a boost to your wellbeing repertoire, head to the nearest forest for a hike. With this simple practice, you’ll be doing both your body and soul a favor.