I wasn't much of a nature girl before committing to a college surrounded by mountains, where bear sightings on campus were a given. The idea that anyone would willingly choose to spend their free time hiking a trail instead of strolling along the boardwalk baffled me. But in the four years I spent at Ramapo College of New Jersey, I was exposed to leaves that changed color with the season, and a reservoir that is as gorgeous as it is mysterious. I still catch myself daydreaming about the blissful times I spent in nature, and forest bathing is a mental health practice that encourages you to do exactly that: unplug from your usual, everyday environment (yes, that includes social media), and tap in to the natural beauty Earth has to offer.
I realize it’s kind of cliché to stress the fact that, sometimes, in order to truly relax and unwind, all you need is a change in scenery. But what that little diddy doesn’t mention is that where you choose to escape to, and what you pack for the occasion, are key. Allow me to set the scene for you: Imagine you’re lying on a gorgeous beach in Miami. The warm sun is kissing your skin; you can hear the steady ebb and flow of waves crashing against the shore, the retracing of the water's steps back into the sea. It's all enough to lull you to sleep when — beep, beep, beep — your smartphone goes off. It’s Instagram, notifying you that your best friend just uploaded a photo of her lunch (again). It's inevitable: Wherever there’s cell service, there’s the potential for distraction. However, when you choose forest bathing over sunbathing, you can rest assured distractions aren’t on the itinerary.
So what exactly is forest bathing, and why is it so amazing for your mental health?
According to Françoise Decatrel, the founder, creative director, and artisanal formulator of Japanese bath and body care brand AMAYORI, forest bathing (or Shinrin-yoku) is a traditional Japanese practice that focuses on completely immersing yourself in nature while tapping into all five of your senses and using them to be even more present in the here and now. “Rather than just walking through the woods, [forest bathing requires you to] breathe in the air and pay close attention to all the nuances of its fragrance, taste the air on your tongue, feel the breeze on your skin, hear all the distinct sounds that surround you,” Decatrel tells Elite Daily, adding you can think of forest bathing as a kind of “walking meditation.”
Even though forest bathing isn’t really a form of exercise per se, the mental health benefits of the experience are actually pretty similar. To Michael Mohr, principal of MetWest Ventures and visionary behind the newly relaunched Gaige House + Ryokan, forest bathing is “a catalyst for calm,” much like practicing yoga or meditation. “Being among nature — the soil, the trees, the animals living in that specific ecosystem — just being an observer and a beneficiary of their sounds and smells — that energy is healing,” he tells Elite Daily. By nurturing this sense solitude and unplugging from your usual world, Mohr believes that forest bathing “allows you a chance to get out of your head and feel your feet.”
What’s more, by disconnecting from the artificial relationships and connections you may have to others via social media, forest bathing with a loved one or friend can strengthen the authenticity of those relationships, as well as the relationship you have with yourself. In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Jon Staff, CEO of the modern cabin rentals service Getaway, reveals that guests who’ve experienced forest bathing firsthand at his cabins have said that their time in nature helped them “feel more connected” to the people they traveled with. Staff also says many of his guests have expressed feeling “less stressed, and generally calmer and happier” by the time their stay in the forest was over — and all because they simply took a step back from everyday distractions and embraced the quiet serenity of nature. Who knew, right?
Even if you don't have the luxury of running away to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, you can still reap the benefits of forest bathing at home.
Forest bathing sounds almost cinematic, like Reese Witherspoon in Wild meets the broadway musical Into The Woods, but not everyone has time for movie magic in between work, school, social events, personal hygiene — you know, all the adult things. But even if you can’t book a cozy, five-day vacay in a cabin in the woods, there are still plenty of ways to fit forest bathing into your everyday routine. All you need is a little time and a lot of nature, or, at the very least, some fresh air.
If you live in a city, for example, or a busy suburban area, Decatrel suggests taking a walk in a park or, better yet, taking an hour or so to browse a local farmers market. "Beyond all of the amazing natural food, it's the vibe," Decatrel tells Elite Daily. "You'll be surrounded by people who are celebrating nature, and there is something incredible about that collective experience."
But maybe parks and farmers' markets aren't available to you where you live. In that case, Decatrel says, you can make small adjustments to your lifestyle, like eating more plant-based meals, decorating your home with flowers and plants, or diffusing earthy, essential oils like pine or hemlock spruce throughout your home. By paying close attention to scents and tastes, you're able to transport yourself to wherever it is that relaxes you most, whether it's a beach, the forest, or the city.
Like meditation, forest bathing is a concept, but it's also a state of mind. So the next time you desperately need to relax, but are running low on vacation time, step out of the office and into the fresh air; spend your lunch break eating outdoors instead of in a noisy cafeteria. If you can't change your surroundings, change how you take advantage of them, because solace is there; you just have to seek it out.