Forest Bathing: Your Guide To The Self-Care Trend

With our culture fully immersed in the necessity of self-care, new and inventive ways to practice it keep coming up. Although there's no wrong way to practice self-care as long as the focus is on preserving one's emotional and mental health, different methods work better for different people. Let's be honest: not everyone can get their head in the game to meditate for several hours, and some just can't afford a regular escape to a spa. For those people, forest bathing just might be the answer to their self-care needs.

"Forest bathing is a tradition originating in Japan that allows us to relax in and with nature," forest bathing expert Berta Pircher told Glamour. "With the so-called shinrin-yoku, we can detach ourselves from daily stressors, from the sensory overload of the city and daily life, block everything out, and concentrate entirely on our senses." According to Pircher, forest bathing is an escape from "karoshi," which translates to death by overwork — definitely something many Americans suffer from.

Forest bathing is a way to regroup, be mindful of yourself and the forest around you, all while soaking up all the benefits that come with being in nature. It's a simple and effective form of self-care that you can practice on your own time and in your own way.

How to forest bathe

Pick a forest you already know you love or one that you want to get to know better. Turn off all your devices or, even better, leave them at home (but let your loved ones know where you're going!). When you're ready, begin to walk slowly through the forest, taking deep breaths to help relieve any stress that you might be experiencing. Make sure all five senses are completely immersed: What do you smell? What can you see? What do you hear? What does the ground feel like underneath each step or under your body if you lie down? Can you taste the fresh air?

You want to tap into everything you have and connect to your surroundings. While you're not going to mediate, per se — although you can if you want to — you still want to empty your head of distracting thoughts. To be aware of everything and how all of it impacts you, letting your intuition be your guide — you don't need a direction or path to follow, aimlessly wandering is best. How long you forest bathe is your call, but working your way up to about two hours per "bath" is the recommended amount of time, per Forestry England. But the longer you bathe, the more you'll be exposed to and "washed" free of all that weighs you down, before having to go back into the real world and the usual day-to-day.

What are the benefits

Not only is taking time to be in the forest beneficial for our mental health, but it positively affects our physiology too. According to a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, exposure to nature can improve blood pressure, memory, concentration, creativity, and sleep. Another study from 2022, published in the Journal of Global Health, found that time in nature resulted in 92% of respondents experiencing health improvement across the board, with mental health improving the most at 98%.

Regular forest bathing, as in making it part of your routine, can be the real deal to getting yourself back on track mentally. You'll be able to manage stress and anxiety better, see a noticeable boost in your cognitive skills, and you might even be able to finally throw out those sleeping pills. Finally, peace of mind and peace of spirit may be within arm's reach.

Why you should consider forest bathing

For starters, it costs nothing to forest bathe. It's also something that even a city person can enjoy because it doesn't have to involve camping, hiking, or anything along those lines. It's simply wandering in the forest. Although there are apps that can help in getting you to focus on and connect to your surroundings, they're not necessary, meaning you need zero equipment for forest bathing. While there are no hard and fast rules to this self-care practice, there are things to consider when choosing your forest.

"The forest must be safe and accessible if you are alone," forest bathing expert Berta Pircher told Glamour. "It must be diverse, e.g., mixed forest, have many plants, clearings, possibly also a small stream or similar. The most important thing: You must be able to feel a sense of 'being away from it all.' In Japanese, this is called shinrin-yoku, or 'immersing yourself in the atmosphere.'"

As 16th-century German-Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus wrote, "The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician," and because he was a doctor, that's medical advice worth following. Forest bathing may not cure everything, but it gives you a break from the constraints of living in such a fast-paced society. It also doesn't require a copay, so there's an extra bonus.