‘Forest bath’ is way to let nature cleanse away stress

A forest walk needn't be vigorous. A stroll, contemplation of natural beauty, even time to sit and read a book can be cleansing.
A forest walk needn’t be vigorous. A stroll, contemplation of natural beauty, even time to sit and read a book can be cleansing.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Shinrin-yoku is the name given to the Japanese art of “forest bathing,” contemplative walks through the woods that reconnect the individual with nature and can lead to decreased stress, natural mood elevation and even a stronger immune system. This means of mobile meditation has been recognized by the Japanese government since 1982 and has been endorsed by the Forest Agency of Japan as a means of improving quality of life. The practice can be a natural way to combat the toll of stress and anxiety, and this holds equally true for Tokyo or L.A.

Qing Li, the president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, founded in 2007, also is a senior professor at Nippon Medical School in Toyko. He has studied the effects of forest bathing. Using a mood profile, he found that participants’ feelings of stress, anxiety or anger had decreased, and their perceptions of energy or vigor had improved. Li suggested additional study into the long-term effects of regular forest bathing.

In two other related studies, Li and fellow researchers sent groups of young men and groups of young women on three-day trips that included several forest baths and a stay in a hotel in the middle of the forest. Blood tests taken before and after this trip showed a significant boost in natural killer cells, which play a vital role in the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Li speculated that forest bathing allows participants to breathe in air that contains volatile essential oils from surrounding trees with active components such as limonene that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties.



How to forest bathe

To give shinrin-yoku a try, choose a spot based on physical ability and convenience. Do not choose a route that is too strenuous: It is recommended that in four hours, you should walk no more than three miles. This is not an endurance hike. Rest when necessary and find a spot where it is pleasant to sit and read for a while or simply look out into the trees. It is OK to bring water or green tea. It is also recommended that, if possible, a forest bath is followed up with a hot spring bath.