What is forest bathing?
By now you might have caught wind of this trending practice. Forest bathing, as the name suggests, is an all-encompassing sensory immersion. It’s connected to relaxation and is purported to lead to a number of health benefits. According to Yale University, spending time outside has been shown to reduce “lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.” According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, it is described as a relational practice that brings people into deeper intimacy with natural places.
There is a growing body of research being conducted on the effects of forest bathing, and the findings consistently point to the obvious: humans need more time outdoors. Cities and businesses across the country are designing their spaces with this in mind, incorporating more parks and/or enhancing existing green spaces to serve the human need for nature.
Why You Should be Forest Bathing
In this era of increased screen time and decreased socialization imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, our need for nature is especially palpable. By 2021, surveys already showed that rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, and stress-related symptoms among Americans had nearly doubled.
For many of us, the pandemic has meant more time spent online. More people are cooped up at home behind a computer for just about everything: work, school, mental health services, virtual meetups, all kinds of media consumption, and the list goes on. Phenomena like ‘doom-scrolling’ and ‘zoom fatigue,’ correlated with “feeling anxious, socially isolated, or emotionally exhausted due to lack of social connection” are now part of the American lexicon.
Considering the pandemic-related health problems spiking in the last couple of years, forest bathing is an especially promising practice.
Carving out just two hours of time can help someone reset, restore and recharge before heading into a new work week.
Forest bathing in Bellingham, WA
The City of Bellingham Parks Guide lists almost 50 parks in the city of Bellingham alone. At 30 mi², that’s almost one and a half parks per square mile. It’s nearly more difficult to stay out of parks in this city than it is to spend time walking through them. The views of trees, mountains, and ocean are all around us, and often all at once.
But forest bathing is about more than just witnessing nature. As forest bathing research veteran Peter H. Kahn explains, the idea involves engaging all the senses, not just the visual. In Bellingham, it might be the Pacific Northwest birdsong, the smells of pine and moss, or the dense feeling of sea fog in the air. Any number of mysteries await you.
Consider this your reminder to be in the present, reduce stress, reconnect with the environment and become more mindful of your 5 senses and your surroundings. Turn off your screens for two hours and join a Forest Bathing class with Recreation Northwest. Carve time out for self-care by scheduling online today!
Recreation Northwest is a 501(c) 3 charity. Our mission: We teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.
Co-authored by, Lauryn Haywood, Recreation Northwest Spring 2022 WWU Communications Intern
As Program Director, Elizabeth Nelson brings her passion for community health by promoting the positive connection and health benefits of time spent in nature. She has a broad range of experience running her own business, working in nonprofit and government organizations. Her program management, graphic design, and marketing skills combined with her background in community health bring a unique perspective to her work. She enjoys hiking, running, playing soccer, gardening, and exploring new trails with her two daughters and dog.