Shinrin-yoku: Forest Bathing in Valle De Bravo

by Stephanie Hannington-Suen

The forest has long been thought of as a place of healing by many ancient cultures. In more recent years, shinrin-yoku or forest bathing was introduced by the Japanese government as a key national health initiative. We explore this practice and its health benefits further.

The history of forest bathing
Deeply rooted in Japan’s Buddhist and Shinto traditions, forest bathing, the act of immersing oneself in nature as a way of improving one’s mental and physical health, has long been practised. However it was not until 1982 that the Japanese government developed the idea of shinrin-yoku as an antidote to rising levels of stress amongst city dwellers working in increasingly claustrophobic cities. Scientific studies were conducted and the results showed that just two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce stress levels and improve people’s health in various ways. The Japanese government embraced this form of ecotherapy and since the 1980s forest bathing has been prescribed as a national health initiative.

Health benefits of forest bathing

Since initial research in the 1980s, the health aspects of forest bathing have been carefully studied. One of the main proven benefits of spending time in a forest is the reduction of cortisol, the stress hormone which can lead to anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart disease and memory impairment when high. Further to this, chemicals, known as phytoncide, released by trees boost the body’s immune system.

Forest bathing also supports the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls bodily functions when a person is at rest, and decreases stress-based illnesses such as headaches, diabetes and arthritis. Mentally, forest bathing can spark creativity through improving concentration, focus and mood.

Forest bathing and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Forest bathing is a concept that reflects the core principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, that we are at one with nature and that our bodies reflect the natural world around us. It is important to balance our minds and bodies and spending time in nature creates this balance. It increases the flow of qi and blood around the body, which in turn positively affects our physiological and emotional health.

Tips for forest bathing
We’ve put together a simple guide to help you enjoy your own forest bathing session:

  1. Put away your phone and other forms of media
  2. Head to an area of nature, such as a local park, forest, beach or nature reserve
  3. Walk in a slow and relaxed manner
  4. Engage your senses and think about what it is you can see, smell, hear and feel
  5. Be aware of your breathing and take deep breaths as you enjoy the environment around you
  6. Make it a regular occurrence and try to build this into a balanced routine

We’ve taken inspiration from forest bathing and created a collection of products inspired by the woods. Shop the collection here.

Images from our trip to Valle De Bravo, Mexico