The Secret to a Healthier & Prosperous Life
What is Forest Bathing?
A few of months ago, my co-workers and I were asked if we wanted to take part in a forest bathing experience at work. I work at the Earth Charter International located at the University for Peace sitting on 300 hectares of the last remaining primary forest in the Central Valley outside of San Jose, Costa Rica. There couldn't be a more perfect setting for this experience right next to my office. I had never heard of forest bathing before but was excited to take part.
Forest bathing or Shinrin Yoku, which literally translates to “absorbing the atmosphere of the forest” in Japanese, originated in Japan as a hobby that has been proven to reduce stress and improve creativity. For centuries we have known that being outside among nature is a medicinal therapy and can greatly benefit our health for our mind, body, and spirit. Imagine what your body might feel after spending an hour or two of deep intentional forest bathing. Forest bathing consists of walking through the forest using all of your senses to absorb as much as the surrounding forest as possible- taking the time to listen to the sound of the birds, feel the Earth beneath you, take in the smells of the forest, feel the wind upon your face, and the textures of the leaves and forest plants in your hands. This experience is so much more than just going on a hike in the woods.
Since Forest Bathing has been discovered, many researchers have scientifically proven the benefits of the activity on mental and physical health. Trees emit this plant substance called phytoncides to help protect themselves from harmful insects and diseases. As you walk through a forest you are literally being bathed in these phytoncides. Scientists have revealed that these phytoncides have cancer preventative effects by increasing the number of natural killer (NK) cells or white blood cells in the body. With more NK cells in your body, the less likely for cancer development. Studies have also proven lowered blood pressure, a reduction to stress, anxiety, and insomnia, a boost to the immune system, increased mood and concentration, psychological well-being, and creativity. The immunostimulant effect of forest bathing has been revealed to last for 30 days, so try visiting the forest at least once a month for a healthier more prosperous life!
How to Forest Bathe
To practice forest bathing on your own, you can simply go on an intentional walk around your nearest forest or park. When I say intentional I mean really tuning in to your surroundings, listening to what the forest wants to tell you, and setting an intention for your practice. You can also join an organized forest bathers group with a guide to participate in a session with set activities along your bathe. Mature primary forests with a large and diverse community of life are preferred in order to receive the most stimulation but being connected in any natural setting will still provide you with significant health benefits.
When we did our forest bathing session, we probably walked about 1km in 4 hours. We were a group of 7 and we purposely walked very slowly and intentionally doing many different exercises to silence the mind and to stimulate creativity. Our classroom was a primary forest surrounded by ancient trees, Higuerón (fig trees), Guayabón, Ceiba to name a few, all kinds of mushroom and plant species, and a variety of bird species. The natural reserve of the University for Peace is considered one of most bio diverse areas in the central valley with over 300 bird species and 100 tree species making this a perfect place for nature therapy.
One activity I particularly liked that brought me back to my childhood memories was the bedroom activity. We had to separate from each other and find a space that we could associate with our bedroom. I chose a space under a beautiful tree with long sturdy vines. These vines reminded me of when I was little, creating bed sheet vines to rappel out of my bedroom window. I sat in wonder and nostalgia under that tree as I was teleported back to Atlanta, Georgia feeling a sense of home, play, and stimulating my inner child.
Much of what we did on our walk, we already use as holistic and integral education at the Earth Charter International incorporating sustainability values and principles into the process of learning. These types of sessions can be applied as transformative activities for education for sustainable development with the goal of inspiring a deep sense of purpose, care for ourselves, and the world around us, ultimately leading towards a paradigm shift for a more sustainable and peaceful world. When we learn to care and love ourselves, we learn to care and love the nature around us.
At the end of the experience, our guide Manuela Siegfried, made us some tea with culantro herbs she had found in the forest. We sat in a circle under the ancient tree canopy taking in everything we had just experienced while drinking our tea and eating Pejibaye (peach palm fruit) cookies she had made for us.
I invite you to go forest bathing on your own or with a group. Find a quiet natural setting, listen to the forest, walk in silence, try to absorb your surroundings using all of your senses, open up to nature’s magic, and let the forest heal you. For more information on Forest Bathing, guides, and programs visit the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.