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What is Forest Bathing and Why Is It So Popular?

Healing | Health

While attending a training at Kripalu this past April, one of the teachers of a Qigong (a style of moving meditation) class that I attended briefly talked about his experience practicing and teaching forest bathing. Forest bathing? I thought…what in the world is forest bathing?  If you've also been in the dark about this new trend, read on to learn more.

Forest Bathing Defined

Forest bathing is the intentional practice of connecting with nature and surrounding yourself with the energy of the natural world. A critical piece here is the intention of the practitioner.

Forest bathing is not taking a leisurely walk in the woods to enjoy the scenery. There's a specific intention in the practice to connect with the natural world and to gain benefit and energy from it. In other words, you are bathing in the energy of the trees, leaves, sky, and earth.

It might also help to identify what forest bathing is NOT. When we hear the word bathing, we might think of water right? In forest bathing, we are speaking more in terms of energy and spirit. While floating in a lake in the middle of the woods might definitely be a part of forest bathing, getting wet is not a requirement for this practice.

Instead, imagine that you are taking another type of bath, cleansing and renewing yourself with the natural life force energy of the forest.

Origin Story

According to a recent story in NPR, forest bathing was born in Japan a few decades ago. There, it was first referred to as Shinrin-yoku, which as you might guess, translates to forest bathing. With institutions like the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health now offering workshops in the practice, one can only imagine that it will continue to grow in the U.S.

Though the term forest bathing is somewhat new, there's a great history behind people renewing themselves in the natural world. Since the date of what would've been Henry David Thoreau's 200th birthday recently passed (July 12th), consider revisiting his classic (and one of my favorite books) Walden, the story of how Thoreau spent a year living in the woods. Though he didn't use these words exactly, I would definitely consider his experience to be an example of early forest bathing.

What Are the Benefits?

Forest bathing, like our yoga practice, can help us to develop focus and to become more aware of the present moment. There are more extensive health benefits as well. In fact, forest bathing has been found to reduce stress and have a positive impact on blood pressure.

According to Bess Hochstein, "Forest bathing has been proven to reduce anger, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness."

How to Practice

One way to approach the forest bathing experience is to translate the work you do on your yoga mat or meditation cushion to the natural world. Just as when you practice your asanas, bringing your full attention to your breath, or when you meditate, noticing the space between your thoughts, you'll bring that same singular focus to your forest bathing experience.

I'm lucky enough to have a large wooded area behind my house. If you don't live in the woods, find some close to you or visit a local park. Most states maintain websites of their state parks including trail guides that will help you find an appropriate setting.

Once you begin your journey into the woods, you might find that using your five senses is a great way to begin. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel as you walk? Go slow. Savor these sensations.

Finally, bring your attention to your energy. Feel as if you're breathing in and becoming one with the energy of the trees, because, in fact, you are.

Have you tried forest bathing? Perhaps you've done it but didn't actually use that phrase. If you haven't tried it, is it something you could see yourself practicing this summer?

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