Feeling frazzled? Forest bathing could be therapy to sink into

The practice of forest bathing is said to boost mental and physical wellbeing. Here is how it works – and why you may want to spend more time among the gum trees.

Living in the city is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming.

Crowds, traffic snarls, pollution, and the constant hustle and bustle can take a toll on our wellbeing.

But, scientists say there is an antidote to the stressors of city life – and it involves getting a dose of nature in the form of forest bathing.

What exactly is forest bathing?

“Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is a practice rooted in Japanese tradition which involves immersive nature experiences that engage the senses, promoting a state of mindfulness and presence in the natural environment,” forest therapy guide and Shinrin-yoku Australia director Daniel D’Appio says.

The term – shinrin means forest and yoku means bathing – was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982 as a response to the burnout from overwork felt by the people of Japan.

Professor Xiaoqi Feng, of the School of Population Health at the University of New South Wales, has been researching nature and health for over 10 years.

A passionate advocate for the environment and a lover of nature, Prof Feng has always been very interested in how people can better interact with nature, and says forest bathing is often an individual experience and about finding what works for you.

“For me, it’s about quiet movement and being around trees,” Prof Feng says.

“Trees wrap us up in nature, as they are so much bigger than us … Being near them gives you access to (the) vastness and peace of the natural world.”

How to practise forest bathing in a city

While pristine forests offer a more profound and immersive nature-bathing experience, urban parks can also provide therapeutic benefits.

“Nature takes many forms, and it is important to know that even though you cannot access a vast forest, you can still derive great benefit from smaller suburban spaces,” Daniel says.

“There are many ways to experience forest bathing: in the simplest way, begin by selecting a natural setting, ideally a forested area or green space with trees; then, engage in mindful walking, paying attention to sensory experiences such as the rustling of leaves, scent of foliage, and textures of the environment.”

Prof Feng says something as small as stopping to caress the soft leaves of a flower or inhaling the fragrant aromas of nature can have profound effects on our psychological and physical wellbeing.

“The important thing is to be connected to nature for at least 20 minutes (at a time),” she says.

Ideally, how often do you need to forest-bathe?

According to UK research, spending at least two hours a week in nature is associated with better health and wellbeing.

Benefits of forest bathing, according to science

“Studies have demonstrated a range of benefits, including reduced cortisol levels, improved mood and enhanced cognitive function, in addition to a wide range of mental health benefits,” Daniel says.

“Phytoncides, natural compounds released by trees, have also been linked to a strengthened immune system and overall physiological resilience.”

Prof Feng points to a 2023 literature review of nature-based interventions published in The Lancet, which found that spending time in nature resulted in lower blood pressure, eased symptoms of anxiety and depression, and raised physical activity which, in turn, leads to positive health outcomes.

Yet another review, published in 2019, found forest bathing can significantly reduce stress.

So next time you find yourself with a moment to spare, resist the urge to start scrolling on your phone – instead, step outside to sit among the trees.

You just may be surprised by the results.

More on the benefits of connecting with nature:

Written by Caroline Zielinski.