By Seiki "Stan" Hirota
Originally published July 4, 2018 on LinkedIn
The word “Shinrin-yoku” or “Forest Bathing” first appeared back in 1982, when the Forestry Ministry of Japan tried promoting this concept as a therapy for a national public health program. Japan is a small island country, but the proportion of forested land is big, and the Forestry Ministry wanted to leverage these forests to promote both mental and physical health of the Japanese people, especially those living in the urban areas with high stress work.
Appreciation toward nature has always been of great importance and environment’s wisdom has long been evident to the culture of Japan. “Forest Bathing” simply tried to remind everyone to get outside and spend more time in the forests, to recharge your body and soul in the clean air of the forest. The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.
In the US, Washington Post wrote an article explaining the concept of Shinrin-yoku back in 2015 and ever since, there has been growing number of followers to the process of soaking up the forest through the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch), to promote physiological and psychological health. It is reported that Americans spend 87% of their time indoors and 6% more time in an enclosed vehicle, and combating this indoor epidemic could potentially bring many health benefits.
I hear that in North America, the increasing popularity of Shinrin-yoku, is particularly strong in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Canada, of which the practice differs from hiking, mountain climbing or other nature excursion. The focus of Shinrin-yoku centers on the therapeutic aspects of spending purposeful time in the forest, and appreciating natural things that can only be seen, felt, heard, tasted and touched when moving and breathing slowly through the forest. This is very different from hiking or mountain climbing, where the purpose is to reach a destination, and an excursion where the purpose is to learn certain informational content of nature.
There are increasing number of scientific studies have found that subjects who participated in forest bathing have shown reduction in tension and anxiety, improvement in working memory and increase in feeling more live. I personally feel that Shinrin-yoku could potentially become a mainstream restorative and therapeutic practice, similar to how yoga became mainstream with increased scientific evidence of its positive effect to overall health.
In Japan, certification of Shrinrin-yoku started back in 2006 and today, there are 62 certified trails that are considered acceptable for forest bathing in conifer tree forests. All these trails are located in relatively bright forests with gentle slopes, and therefore can be enjoyed by anyone. Although there are certified trails, I personally think that we do not have to be strict in selecting the location to Shinrin-yoku. In my opinion, just choose a place with comfortable temperature with minimal noise and distraction, and immerse yourself in the forest with phytoncide derived from plants and trees, which will help you refresh yourself from stress.