It’s pretty hard to scroll through gorgeous naturescapes on Instagram these days and not get total wanderlust for the great outdoors. A weekend adventure or even a walk through the park is enough to leave you energized and ready to tackle life’s challenges. And wouldn’t you know it, Japan has been all over this idea for years. The ancient practice of Shinrin-yoku, also known as “forest bathing,” is all the rage in environmentally-savvy spas. By taking a slow guided hike through the woods, walkers are encouraged to reconnect with their senses and pay attention to the gentle rhythm of the natural world.
Science isn’t totally sure why this has such a calming effect, but non-treehuggers might want to consider it. You know that intoxicating forest smell? That’s from phytoncides, a chemical produced by trees that can reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Researchers in Japan who study the effects of forest bathing believe that spending time in Mother Nature could be an affordable solution for people suffering from anxiety, weak immune systems and mood disorders.
Whether its benefits are purely chemical or not, Dr. Nina Smiley, the director of Mindfulness Programming at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, notices that her clients have a more positive outlook after walking with her through the resort’s picturesque trails. “It’s about carrying on that sense of spaciousness that you get from nature,” she says.
It can take as little as fifteen minutes to reap the benefits of forest bathing, but M. Amos Clifford, the founder of Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, says it’s better to think of your time spent outside as a dose. The longer you spend in a natural environment, the longer its affects last. After a two to three hour walk, he says you can expect to feel the calming effects for a week.
It’s not all bad news for urban dwellers though. While it’s initially important to be immersed in green, Nina explains that small signs of nature, like trees and flowers, can serve as powerful reminders of your experience. “Visualize yourself being in the woods, so you have a special place that you can go back to in your mind’s eye that will be with you all the time,” she says. If an outdoor adventure is out of reach for this season, tap into nature’s calming energy with these five tricks for greening up your life.
Forest Bathing Tips for the Urbanite
1. Decorate with plants: Add a plant to any place where you spend a lot of time, especially your workplace. They filter the air and have a calming effect.
2. Walk in the park: We stroll by nature every day without even noticing it. Take the opportunity to spark your creativity and recenter yourself. “As you walk by a tree, take it in with a different perspective and see how brave it is to be in the city,” Nina says.
3. Tend a garden: A study from Denmark shows that garden therapy can significantly reduce anxiety. Whether it’s at a community garden or a window box, it’s important to see and experience things growing.
4. Hang pictures of forest scenes: Wallpaper and decals are more than just pretty decor. While it’s not the same as getting away, research shows that putting images of nature in your environment can make you less stressed.
5. Get out the essential oils: One study suggests that aromatherapy using forest-related scents can improve the immune system. Opt for plants of the pine variety, which contain phytoncides.
Where do you go to be in nature? Share your outdoor adventures with us on Instagram.
(Photos via Getty)