If you’re anything like me, you love grabbing some fresh air when you can. Whether it’s a quick walk in the park or a whole weekend at our beach house, there is nothing quite like a little time away from screens and out of doors.
When was the last time you spent uninterrupted time outside? Or time outside at all? Been a while? Turns out you’re not alone. Between plugged-in jobs and leisure time on the couch, we are passing more time inside than ever. In fact, we spend a shocking average of 90% of our time indoors.
While we might be used to the conveniences that climate control an electronics provide, this time inside might be affecting us more than we realize. Experts have even embraced the term “nature-deficit disorder,” which was originally coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. To give you a quick summary, Louv argues that all of this time inside is leading to attention difficulties, worsening mental health, Vitamin D deficiency, obesity, and “diminished use of the senses.”
All of this has made children (and adults!) more stressed out and less present, lowering overall quality of life. While the prognosis might feel grim, all of this talk about nature deficit has started conversations about our relationship with the outdoors. The overwhelming consensus? We need a whole lot more fresh air.
And what better way to immerse yourself in nature than to bathe yourself in it? Well, not literally. “Forest bathing,” or shinrin-yoku is a Japanese tradition that involves soaking in the forest through the senses. The phenomenon was recently made popular by Japanese physician Qing Li in his book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. This simple practice combines mindfulness and time outdoors, delivering a host of benefits. We’re talking stress reduction, less anxiety and depression, better sleep, boosted metabolic health — the goodness we all crave. There is even evidence out there that the literal scent of trees can reduce stress and improve the function of white blood cells, enhancing your immune system.
Once you start posting Instastories while you’re on a hike, or take a peek at email while you’ve got your toes in the sand, the wellness benefits might just start going out the window. So here’s how to get your forest bath on the right way.
How to Forest Bathe
While the benefits are vast, the actual practice of forest bathing is pretty simple. To start, leave your phone at home or turn it off. Technology creates a barrier between you and nature, so be sure to unplug for a bit.
Then find a spot outside. This can be in the woods near your home, an urban park, or wherever you have access to fresh air. You don’t need to live near a magical woodland to reap the benefits of this practice, I promise.
Once you make your way to your slice of nature, you can let yourself wander. Walk slowly down a trail and tune into nature. Feel the sun on your skin, listen to the birds, feel the crunch of the trail, and notice the scent of the grass. The key is to slow down and stay mindful of your surroundings. While the lack of distraction may feel unsettling at first, you will slowly feel your mind go still. While Li recommends slow walking for beginners, you can take it a step further. Meditate by a stream, do yoga between the trees, or simply sit and watch the birds. You can even invite a friend to forest bathe along with you.
Remember: there is no perfect way to incorporate this practice into your life. Whether you spend two hours or twenty minutes in nature, the key is to carve out as much time as you can and give yourself a break from your daily hustle. By building a little bit (or a lot!) of nature time into your weekly routine, you can feel more connected to your senses. And of course, as with any new wellness regimen, forest bathing can take time to get used to. However, the commitment is well worth it.
Now if you need me, I’ll be under a tree.