When was the last time you really just took in the textures, smells, and sounds of the forest? If you’re like the majority of Americans, your access to the forest may be limited. According to census data, 80% of the US population lives in urban areas. On top of that factor, most people find themselves living in multiple boxes (whether that is a car, house, or office) enclosed from the outside environment. Our senses are meant to pick up more than just the sound of the A/C and hum of the computer.
“Forest bathing” is directly translated from the Japanese word shinrin-yoku. Skinrin means forest and yoku means bath. To bathe in the forest is to be completely saturated in the details one’s senses can pick up within it. During forest bathing there is no goal other than to sense what is around you in the forest amongst the trees. Shinrin-yoku is to be submerged in the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves of the forest canopy while you feel the wind through your own fingertips outstretched. To bathe in the forest is to slowly walk and to notice each fallen leaf alongside the trail as you gently pass. Or, it is to sit on the earth below you and take in how the light dances through the tree branches. Shinrin-yoku is a meditation on the way our body is connected to the natural world through our senses.
Research shows that just 2 hours a week of forest bathing can improve our health aside from just feeling calmer and more connected. Trees release an organic compound called phytoncides. This compound may have real health benefits for forest bathers. A study showed that after a forest bathing session participants had lower blood pressure and lower heart rate (1). Additionally forest bathers had a more robust immune system by way of increased NK cell activity (2).
Fortunately, the Twin Cities is home to many wonderful parks with plenty of access to natural areas. You don’t need a whole forest to practice shinrin-yoku. You can even just find a strip of trees in the city park or practice in your garden. Looking to plan your next forest bathing session but want to stay within the Twin Cities?
A beginners option would be to visit the beautiful Silver wood park in St. Anthony, MN. This park features a forest bathing section with prompts to follow along with on signs posted on the trail.
Make a goal to get connected. You might even find yourself feeling calmer, healthier, and more well.
Katie Steffensen L.Ac, EAMP
Link to Silverwood Park: