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A man meditates alone in the forest.

Forest bathing: Mindfulness in nature

When did you last take a quiet, leisurely walk in the park, forest or nature trail? This wellness practice, known as forest bathing or forest therapy, combines the benefits of nature with meditation.

“The concept of forest bathing was brought into the mainstream through Japanese culture,” says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “They call this concept shinrin-yoku, which loosely translated means ‘forest bath.’”

Forest bathing involves walking slowly, mindfully, and quietly in an outdoor setting, such as a forest, park or trail—no actual bathing is required.

“Forest bathing is different from exercise because it’s slower and more intentional,” Buttimer says. “It’s important to be present and not use devices during this time. Stop, pause, breathe and take in the sensations around you. Notice the sights, smells and sounds. Bring yourself fully into the moment. The human mind can make excuses and make the exercise complex, but it’s actually very simple.”

While it’s wise to bring along a companion for safety when spending time in the woods or on a trail, try to remain silent during the walk so you can reflect and meditate.

Health benefits of forest bathing

“Being out in nature can have healing effects on the mind and body,” Buttimer says. “It’s a really good example of mindfulness in action. You’re bringing your presence and senses into the woods and benefitting from placing your full attention there.”

He says studies have found that forest therapy may:

  • Reduce stress and cortisol levels.

  • Improve your mood.

  • Lower blood pressure.

  • Decrease blood sugar.

  • Help with chronic pain management.

  • Exposure to phytoncides, the chemicals emitted by plants that protect them from harmful insects and diseases, can boost your immune system.

  • Improve concentration and ADHD symptoms.

  • Reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.

  • Give you a better perspective on your problems.

Buttimer also notes that researcher Qing Li, M.D., Ph.D., at the Nippon Medical School in Japan found that forest bathing boosts natural killer cells – also known as anti-cancer cells – in the body.

Bring the outdoors inside

If you can’t spend time outdoors because of your health, the weather or other reasons, you can bring nature into your home with a houseplant or bouquet of flowers.

“You’re still going to get some benefits from these plants or flowers as objects to meditate on,” Buttimer says. “Spend time looking at a flower or plant. Consider how it grows, its intricacies and beauty. Use it to get a different perspective.”

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