Forest bathing might sound like something you’d expect your crystal-loving cousin to do on a full moon. Fun fact: its benefits are rooted in Japanese culture and have strong scientific backing.

What is forest bathing?

Is it fitness? Is it mindfulness? It’s a bit of both. Forest bathing is generally defined as purposefully spending time in a natural setting while mindfully connecting to the environment.

Its origins come from Japan. In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries conducted studies on the potential benefits of prolonged outdoor exposure to forests. The studies showed decreased cortisol levels (stress hormone) and reduced blood pressure. These beneficial findings prompted the government to promote this practice as a form of ecotherapy.

Thus shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, was born.

Why does it work?

Humans have an inherent and primal need to connect to nature. We keep plants in our homes, offices engage in biophilic design practices, and we get grumpy when it’s too cold to go outside for days on end. Biologist E.O. Wilson, a.k.a. the ‘Ant Man’ (sorry Paul Rudd), believed that humans are hardwired to connect with nature.

“Biophilia is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.” 
E.O. Wilson

Immersing ourselves in a forest atmosphere is one way to achieve our much-needed connection to the natural world.

Since its inception in 1982, there have been continued studies on the benefits of forest bathing. While the initial studies by the Japanese Ministries were unanimously conclusive of the benefits, that hasn’t stopped scientists from wanting to learn more.

Further studies from the Center of Environment, Health, and Field Sciences looked at field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Physiological factors were measured before and after a forest bathing session and then compared.

The results found that ‘forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.”

Multiple factors show that spending time unplugged from technology surrounded and by trees and natural organisms makes our bodies and minds happier. These studies continue to prove the beneficial effects of forest bathing.

Importance of unplugging 

According to the EPA, the average American spends 90% of their time inside. Yikes. Combine that with the onset of technostress (yes – this is an actual term being studied), and it makes a lot of sense as to why spending time in nature would be beneficial.

Forest bathing tackles both issues – it gets you away from technology and gets you into a natural setting.

How do forest bathe? 

While it sounds straightforward, there are a few things to consider. Ideally, you’d be in a semi-secluded area without a lot of developed land, human-made structures, or noises. Here are a few tips to help make the most of your forest experience:

  • DO turn off your devices (or at least silence them). If you’re scrolling through Instagram or answering emails while you’re trying to take in nature, you’ll miss the benefits.
  • DON’T listen to music or podcasts. Being present in the forest means using all five of your senses (well, at least four – don’t go licking trees). Focus on the natural sounds around you rather than something from a device.
  • DO aim for two hours. If your schedule allows it, two hours is the recommended time for optimum forest bathing. But if you only have twenty minutes, that’s okay. You’ll still benefit from the leafy green bath.
  • DON’T treat it as exercise. Nature walks or hikes are wonderful ways to exercise, but the goal of forest bathing is more about taking in your surroundings, not working up a sweat. You’ll definitely get health benefits from a two-hour mosey, but don’t treat this like a hike in the Appalachians.
  • DO embrace curiosity. Cool-looking tree? Go touch it! Beautiful flower? Smell it! Give yourself permission to fully explore your surroundings and embrace your curious inner self.
  • DO tell someone where you’re going. Basic safety, people. If you’re planning to be alone in the wilderness, always make sure at least one person knows where you are and when to expect you back.

How will this help me study?

We’ve often talked about how important your mindset is when it comes to studying. If you’re distracted, angry, or stressed, it’s really difficult to have a productive study session.

Anything that can decrease stress is a helpful aid when it comes to increasing your study productivity. Snuggle a furry friend, have a bite of chocolate, and get some fresh air – all of these activities have been shown to boost dopamine levels and lower stress.

Beautiful image of a moss-covered forest floor as sunrise peaks through the trees.
The average American spends 90% of their time inside. Forest environments promote lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure.

If you want to take it one step further, schedule a forest bathing session before a study session. Time is precious when you’re studying, so instead of two hours, aim for twenty minutes (or longer) when you can. Be purposeful with this time and devote whatever you can carve out to being fully present in nature.

What if I don’t live near a majestic forest?

I don’t either, it’s okay. The two crucial components of forest bathing are 1) sensory immersion and 2) nature. While I would love to spend two hours walking through Yakushima National Park, I live in a relatively urban setting. So how would I accomplish my goal of a forest bath?

  1. Sensory immersion: I can often hear birds, dogs, and really loud fire trucks when I’m outside. In this instance, trying to connect with nature may rely more on tactile sense than auditory. For example, I can sit in the grass, touch plants, and crinkle leaves, rather than focusing on sounds that will often be interrupted by loud traffic.
  2. Nature: While I can definitely drive to a secluded hike, a 20-minute window wouldn’t accommodate that. I’m lucky to have a small backyard with a little bit of grass and a smallish tree. For me, nature immersion might look like walking up to my tree and touching the bark and leaves for a few minutes. Smelling the rosemary bush and touching the soil in some of my potted plants.

Depending on where you live and what you have access to, forest bathing looks different for each of us. Focus on the senses that work in your particular environment. Do what you can, when you can. Incorporate some nature immersion moments into your study habits when you can. Your body and mind will thank you.