Forest Bathing Demystified

In Your Element guide Katie Venechuk leads a forest bathing experience.

“…do I have to bring a swimsuit?”

“…is the ‘bathing’ part private?” 

“…what does a guide do?”

“…will I have to hug trees? …in public?  I don’t want to look weird…”

Ah, forest bathing!  An amazing wellness practice that sparks so many questions.

We’re asked pretty often what forest bathing is and how to learn how to do it.  Look no further, friends!  We’re going to break it all down for you here.

First off, why is it called forest bathing?

Spoiler alert: no swimsuits are needed!  There are no bathtubs involved, either. (Though, how lovely would a private bubble bath in the middle of a beautiful forest be?)  

The term forest bathing is simply an English translation of a wellness approach known as Shinrin-yoku in Japan.  “Shinrin” translates as forest, “yoku” translates as bathing.  

Here in the west, we tend to associate the idea of bathing with a dip in a body of water, but with Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese are referring to bathing in a different element than good ol’ H2O:  the forest air.   

Mid-day light shines through the canopy of a large beech tree in a forest.

Close your eyes and imagine that you are walking in a forest.  

Can you imagine the smell and feeling of the air?  Maybe there is a fresh pine fragrance, or the rich scent of dirt, or just the general sensation of breathing in freshly minted oxygen.  

Whatever comes to mind for you, our point is this: when we step into a forest and take a few breaths, we can feel it in our body that the quality of air is different there.  This knowledge is at the heart of decades of forest medicine research at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, which has in turn led to the growth of forest bathing worldwide.

Forest bathing is all about taking ourselves into a forested environment and “bathing” (or basking) in the forest atmosphere, breathing in the beneficial air and slowing down by reconnecting to nature through the senses, giving our thinking minds some much needed time off.

Want to learn more about the background of forest bathing and some specifics of some of the medical research?  Read more here: What is Forest Bathing? (Shinrin-yoku)? 

How is forest bathing different from a hike?

A few miles of hiking on a woodland trail can benefit our physical and mental health in a lot of ways, but forest bathing is a completely different approach to our time in nature.  

In contrast to a hike where we are focused on getting from Point A to Point B (which is just more GO-GO-GO and tends to feed into our generally accelerated pace of life), forest bathing focuses on slowing down a lot and noticing our relationship to the world around us through the senses of our body.  It’s a practice of awareness, relaxation, and reconnecting to the fact that we live on a living and breathing planet, full of plants, animals, birds and an expansive more-than-human world. 

Want to go pet that moss and notice how soft it is?  Go do it.

Want to smell the scent of crushed up forest leaves?  Gather up a handful and enjoy.

Want to lay back and watch the clouds through the trees?  Settle in and take your time.

All of these are examples of forest bathing.

The focus is in giving your mind some time off by noticing how your senses connect you to the world around you.  To really lean in, the recommended amount of time for a forest bathing session is ideally 2-3 hours.

Want to try forest bathing? A guide can help!

Forest bathing is a simple practice, but it can be really hard to do.  

In Your Element guide Katie Venechuk leads a fall forest bathing experience for a large group of people at Izaak Walton League in Belmont, MI.

We operate in a culture that emphasizes productivity over all things, and sitting still in nature doing what feels like nothing can actually be a little anxiety inducing before it’s relaxing.  It’s not uncommon to sit in nature and find ourselves worrying about all the other tasks we could be doing – leaving us feeling like we’re wasting time and gaining nothing.

While stepping away from the productivity mindset is hard to do, we are humans and we need to take breaks.  It’s as simple as that.  Nature is an excellent place to go to restore our attention and ability to focus, and a forest therapy guide is trained to skillfully help you step into your forest bathing experience and fully embrace your time there.  

When you join an experience with a forest therapy guide, you’ll be offered an intentional sequence of forest bathing invitations, helping you tune into your senses, notice new details in the world around you, and fully honor your intention to take time away from technology.  

A guide also keeps the time for you, allowing you to step away from the clock, and will bring you to intentionally selected forested environments, with specific species of trees and various natural features that are known to help people relax.

You’ll also be in community with other people, which brings us back into a sense of connection with each other, as well as the web of life that is all around us. 

Want to learn more about forest bathing with a guide?  Check out this video from our trainers at the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy to learn more.

Are you ready to go forest bathing?

Dress comfy, leave behind your phone and head for some trees!

Want to head out with a guide?  Join our ANFT certified guide Katie for experiences in West Michigan, hosted at least once monthly. Learn more and register to join us for an upcoming forest bathing experience on our Calendar & Booking page.

Happy forest bathing, friends!  We hope to see you in the forest soon.

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