“We know what kind of world we are living in: one that is very stressful and very tense. This is the color of hopefulness, and of our connection to nature,” Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color, told The New York Times. “There’s a Japanese concept called ‘forest bathing,’ which says that when you are feeling stressed, one of the best things to do is go walk in the forest.”
So what exactly is forest bathing? And what are its benefits?
The Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku, which dates back to the 1980s, translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing,” and “refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health,” according to The Washington Post.
And the health benefits are varied and proven. Spending time in nature has been linked to lower stress levels, improved working memory and feeling more alive, reports the Post.
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The practice of forest bathing has recently emerged stateside, thanks to companies like Shinrin Yoku L.A., which organizes guided nature walks.
“When we visit a natural area and walk through it in a relaxed and mindful way, there are rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved,” the company’s website promises. “Combining peaceful walks under the forest canopy with guided meditations and activities, Shinrin Yoku will enable you to awaken your senses, slow down, hone your intuition, and experience your interconnectedness with the natural world.”
A 2010 study demonstrated that walking in the forest can lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, increase parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity — which correlate with relaxation. Another study showed that forest bathing is correlated with an increase in white blood cells.
Scientists are unsure why exactly forest bathing has these health benefits. Some believe the benefits are linked to phytoncides, antimicrobial organic compounds given off by plants, which may aid in relaxation. However, according to the Post, the concentrations found in nature might be too low to have any real effect.
Other researchers believe the calming effects of spending time in nature are related to the sense of awe we feel, which can lead to other positive emotions.
Whatever the cause of the benefits, if you’re feeling stressed, heading to your nearest forest may be the cure.