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What Is Forest Bathing?

By: Kristin Bugden

Kristin Bugden is a New Jersey-based mom and communications consultant. She loves to write, take barre classes and believes in a good reality television binge-watching session. Here, she interviews a forest bathing expert.

As someone who has lived in an urban area for several years now, I don’t necessarily spend as much time in nature as I’d like to. However, when I do get the chance, I always think to myself that I should try and make it more of a habit because I end up feeling so relaxed and rejuvenated when I do. There’s a good chance you might have experienced something similar.

In the last year or so, the practice of forest bathing, or essentially immersing yourself in nature, has gained quite a bit of attention. Lively recently spoke with Melanie Choukas-Bradley, naturalist and author of The Joy of Forest Bathing—Reconnect with Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life,all about the practice and how you can incorporate forest bathing into your life – even if you’re a city gal like myself. 

Lively: What exactly is forest bathing?

Melanie Choukas-Bradley: Forest bathing is simply slowing down, breathing deeply, and tuning into the beauty and wonder of your surroundings with each of your senses. It’s a mindfulness practice, akin to meditation, yoga, and tai chi. Forest bathing helps you to feel fully connected to the present moment with the added benefit of deepening your connection with nature. The practice began in the 1980s in Japan and is rooted in the traditional Japanese reverence for nature. Forest bathing has since become popular all over the world.

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L: What are some of the wellness benefits of forest bathing? 

MCB: The mental health benefits related to spending quiet time in nature are being studied in Japan and all over the world on an ongoing basis. Studies have shown that forest bathing can help improve mood, focus, creativity, relaxation, and better sleep.

L: How often should you partake in forest bathing in order to get the above-mentioned benefits? 

MCB: Studies have indicated that there are lasting benefits of even occasional forest bathing. If you’re unable to spend an extended period of time in the forest, you will receive mental and physical health benefits from even 20 minutes of quiet relaxation in a city park or your own backyard.

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forest bathing

L: Any tips for someone who is wanting to try this practice for the first time? 

MCB: My advice that I describe in my book, The Joy of Forest Bathing—Reconnect with Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life, is to find a place of natural beauty as close to where you live or work as possible and adopt it as your “wild home.” It can be a neighborhood park, garden, or even your own backyard. Visit this place as often as you can, in all seasons, weathers, and times of day, and spend as much quiet time there as you have available. You will develop a relationship with the place very much like the relationships you have with friends and family.

There are three major steps to a forest bathing walk: The first is to disengage from electronics and your day’s activities. The second is to breathe deeply and engage each of your senses in the beauty and wonder around you: Listen to the birds, the breezes, flowing water, and any city sounds. Notice what’s in motion around you and what is still. Smell the leaves, the flowers, and the earth. Gently touch the stones, the mosses, the leaves and the trunks of trees. Pick a tree and spend time with it, sitting under or in it or lying down and looking up into the crown. If there are no trees around, choose another natural feature: A cactus, some driftwood, a stone, or a flowering plant. Finally, the third step is to transition back to daily life with an activity like drinking some tea and poetry with a snack.

A forest bathing walk can last for 20 minutes or three or more hours. Walk slowly and take time to stop often and notice what’s around you.

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L: What can someone expect in terms of having a professional guide them through forest bathing vs. doing it themselves? 

MCB: It’s helpful to go on a forest bathing walk with a certified forest therapy guide. The Association of Nature & Forest Bathing Guides & Programs (ANFT) has trained hundreds of guides in North America and around the world. An ANFT certified forest therapy guide has the experience to lead a meaningful and enjoyable forest bathing walk. However, forest bathing is something you can absolutely do on your own! I take you through the basic steps of a forest bathing walk in my book, The Joy of Forest Bathing, and other helpful forest bathing guides include those by Dr. Li, Dr. Miyazaki and Amos Clifford. Forest bathing isn’t rocket science. It’s simply the practice of slowing down and tuning into the beauty and wonder around you. Once you get the hang of it, you can forest bathe wherever you go – after all, even when you’re not in the forest, you’re between the earth and sky!