Efficient Wellness: 5 ways to get the benefits of forest bathing no matter where you live.
National Forest Bathing Day is September 8th!
Growing up I had the run of about 40 acres of woods. Despite my teenage complaints of not living in a neighborhood and therefore having no neighbors under 50 years old, no pizza delivery and a mile long private (no-snow plows) gravel road...in retrospect having an outdoorsy childhood was beneficial. My grandparents lived, literally, through the woods, so on a pretty much daily basis, we would walk the dogs through the forest, down to the pond to feed the fish. It was lush, green and calm. During college, living for my first time in a fourth floor apartment, I HATED it. I need easy access to a yard and green space and some semblance of solitude. And it turns out, there's a scientific reason why. Being in nature, or forest bathing, helps to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and anger while also helping to improve sleep, boost the immune system and promote cardiovascular health.
Forest bathing, or 'shinrin-yoku' is a Japanese concept that means taking in the forest's atmosphere via our senses. In 1982 the term was coined by the Director of the Agency of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan. He decided "the people of Japan were in need of healing through nature" which would also help preserve the forests. During my trip to Japan I was in such awe of the Japanese gardens and green spaces, especially in Kyoto (below). Each was so serene and intentional. Even the gardens in Tokyo made you feel as though you weren't in a bustling city. But fear not. There are over 300 public Japanese gardens in North America if you can't go to Japan (but you definitely should go- it's amazing).
One of the actual fundamental purposes of Japanese gardens and of forest bathing is to create a kinder, healthier and more beautiful world. It seems silly to ignore the science behind why we all feel so much better with nature. Wandering through a lush garden can have relaxing effects. Several studies at Japanese Universities found that spending time in nature significantly reduces stress levels (Song. Ikei. Miyazaki) while researchers at Stanford University found that listening to the sounds of nature, (i.e. water falling) increases a feeling of serenity. Nature sounds can also decrease a feeling of “fight or flight.” (Gould van Praag et al.) Those subjects who felt the greatest amount of stress prior to listening to natural sounds in a study, were the most relaxed after hearing them (University of Sussex, 2016). The more upset and stressed you are, the more nature can help.
But beyond relaxation, being with nature also helps your brain do better. Researchers at the University of Melbourne found that looking at natural vegetation restores a person’s attention span (Lee, Williams, Sargent, Williams, & Johnson) and woods walkers had a 20% improvement on memory tests vs those who walked down a city street (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan).
So how can you get those benefits in your daily life?
5 Ways To Add Forest Bathing Benefits to Your Daily Life
Take a mid-work nature break
You saw the studies above, so take advantage of your lunch break or a weekend jaunt and get some movement in. If you're lucky enough to live near the Portland Japanese Garden (We are dying to go! It was recently featured on an architecture Instagram account we follow and Chris and I kept sending each other the images! ), the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philly, or the National Bonsai museum in DC, go and actually enjoy them! If you don't have any Japanese designed gardens, find a park with lots of trees. Bring a friend or enjoy a solo walk to re-energize. No city sidewalks. Find greenery for the biggest benefit.
Nature Sound Apps
Nature sounds relax you (again, see the previously mentioned studies). There are so many ways to add nature sounds to your space from a small fountain to -more realistically- a nature sounds station on a music streaming app or YouTube channel. Look for waterfalls, forests, birds etc. Noisli has been one of my favorites and sometimes I'll use it when construction is going on nearby. I like that you can customize the sound (more forest, less wind etc). There's also Naturespace, which is new to me, but apparently amazing for listening to with headphones because of the way they record the sound.
Be a plant lady
Part of forest bathing is taking in the forest's atmosphere via our senses. Something as small as a desk plant can help, but you know me...the more plants the better! If you're just testing the waters with Plant Mom Life, look up low maintenance plants for your light needs. Want something more sculptural, beautiful and Japanese? Bonsai and kokedamas are gorgeous. I have a kokedama in the office hanging from the top of a window which is also great to keep away greenery from cats. If you like something architectural, the bonsai museum in Tokyo was beyond belief with trees that were a thousand years old and selling for over a million dollars!
Remember, plants can also help improve the air quality of your space, so consider it a double health investment and head to your local plant shop or nursery to get some green.
Scent is powerful. With travel diffusers, large home aromatherapy diffusers, and even roller balls to take in your purse, bringing the smell of the forest is easier than ever to take with you. While I'm personally partial to Jo Malone fragrances for perfume (because they do have such tree based scents like black cedar wood and juniper), you can also light a redwood cedar forest candle for a night on the couch.
Natural non blue tone light
What's the difference between being in a gorgeous garden or forest and being at home? You're probably looking at a screen at home. Personal devices like cell phones and laptops are notorious for ruining circadian rhythm thanks to the blue light they emit. Natural light helps you sleep and improves your mood. Get as much natural light as you can but also make an effort to get off your devices. If you’ve got to be on your phone or your computer, use a blue light distortion app (like f.lux) or consider looking at blue light filtering glasses.
If you find yourself not feeling your best, nature might be your best medicine. I challenge you to try a few of these ways to add a little bit of shinrin-yoku to your life, no matter where you live.
Dietitian Nutritionist. My husband Chris and I create food and beverage photos, videos, stopmotions and recipes. And they're really cool.