In this article, autism coach Nikki shares an effective method to transform your wellbeing: forest bathing! You will learn what it is, what the benefits are and how to get started with the art of forest bathing.

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Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

As an autism coach, I’m always on the lookout for new ways and methods to help clients with their overstimulation and overwhelm.

A lot of the times I read about meditation and mindfulness, but not all tactics work for everybody. Also, I noticed this often is the case for highly sensitive people. Some people find it hard to meditate at home.

Here’s an easier self care method that can help you to recharge your energy and increase your wellbeing: Forest Bathing!

What Is Forest Bathing?

Forest bathing is a meditative art and practice that finds its origin in Japan. The Japanese word is Shinrin-yoku, and the practice involves connecting yourself with nature through your senses.

However, I know some people might have other associations with the word “bathing”. Nevertheless, you can see that forest bathing has nothing to do with swimming and is all about wellbeing. Instead, it is more comparable to the word “sunbathing”, but instead of wallowing in the sun, you wallow in nature.

Forest bathing is preferably practiced in a tree-rich environment. That’s why most people use the forest to connect with nature. Moreover, it’s easier to ground yourself and refine your senses, calm down, relax and perceive life as it is in nature. Especially for you as a highly sensitive person, it’s key to calm your senses once in a while. Forest bathing may help you to increase your wellbeing and reconnect to yourself.

The art of forest bathing is actually not that old. As mentioned, Forest Bathing was launched in Japan in the 1980’s. In fact, they actually launched it as a media campaign. The creators wanted to inspire people to revisit forests and get more involved in protecting nature as a whole.

Later on, Japanese researchers discovered more about the positive effects it has on the body and the mind. For instance, it turned out to be helpful as a natural remedy against burn-outs and other stress related complaints. Now, Forest Bathing rapidly conquers the rest of the world. 

If you’d like to read more about forest bathing, you may want to read the popular book ‘Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness’.

Forest Bathing And Your Wellbeing: The Benefits

We hear it all the time: spending time in nature is good for you! And I believe that, but as someone who believes in science, I wanted to know why this is. Luckily, science did its research and found out that this statement – which we already instinctively knew – is true!

Journalist Florence Williams wrote a book about the effects that nature has on us as people: The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.

In this book, Williams writes about how she traded mountainous Boulder, Colorado, for the US capital Washington DC, and how she began exploring the benefits of being outdoors since then. Below, I’ll list a few of these benefits.

On the image, there is a forest and in the background the light is shining through the trees. It is a perfect representation of forest bathing and wellbeing.
Photo credits: Sebastian Unrau

Forest Bathing Improves Your Memory

Multiple studies have shown that being in nature improves your memory. For instance, this research showed an increase of 20% in short term memory by walking in nature or even looking at a picture of nature!

Spending Time In Nature Lowers Stress

Multiple studies have shown that being in nature lowers your stress. For instance, this study looked at student that spent two nights in nature.

They turned out to have lower cortisol levels than the control group that spent the night in the city. Cortisol is the hormone that indicated the experience of stress.

Another research showed that people who spent time in nature also have a decreased heart rate next to the lower levels of cortisol compared to the control group. 

Nature Helps Restore Mental Energy

When you notice that you are mentally low on energy, studies have shown that you need to restore your brain. And the best way to do that, is to go out in nature. Another study has also shown that looking at a calming picture of nature already renewed some mental energy, something that didn’t happen when people looked at a picture of a city.

Forest Bathing Decreases Feelings Of Anxiety And Depression

This study shows that forest walks are related to lower levels of anxiety and less gloom. Also, another research states that walks are useful in addition to existing treatments for major depression. 

Being In Nature Can Boost Your Immune System

In 2010 there was a review of a couple of studies that concluded that all the findings point to the healing effects of forests on the human immune system. However, they do need to do more research into causality. 

In addition, there are more positive benefits for being in nature more often, like better concentration, improvement of creativity and it’s good for your eyes. Moreover, some studies even say that being in nature on a regular basis even lowers the chance of an early death.

You can imagine that Forest Bathing therefore has an extremely positive effect on both your body, mind and overall wellbeing. However, what highly sensitive people and empaths might even need more, is to slow down. And that’s what being in nature can do you for you.

This effect is an important one. Because as soon as you slow down, you’ll notice the silence. The silence around you, but also inside of you. And this is when the forest can heal you and bring you back home, to who you really are. 

Consequently, this illustrates the positive effects of forest bathing on your wellbeing. If you’d like to deep dive further into this topic, you may find the book ‘Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature’ interesting.

Photo credits: Michael Krahn

How To Get Started With Forest Bathing

But how do you start with Forest Bathing? Well, Forest Bathing is very accessible and practically anyone can do it. That is one of the reasons why I love this practice. You don’t need anything, except nature. And nature can be found in a lot of places.

One of the places is – of course – a forest, but if you don’t have access to a forest, you can just as well use a park, the beach or even your garden or balcony. Next to that, you need to bring an open attitude and surrender yourself to nature. 

Forest Bathing has three phases: the preparation, the Forest Bathing itself and the aftermath. Per phase I will share some tips with you.

The Preparation

Preparation is key towards a successful forest bathing experience. Here are some practical tips:

Find The Right Spot

Know where you want to go for your Forest Bath. Therefore, pick a place in nature where you want to go, which is accessible to you and where you can find your peace and quiet. Moreover, it’s important that you choose a spot where you feel comfortable and relaxed and where you (if possible) won’t be disturbed.

Pick A Time That Works For You

Forest Bathing can take some time, so make sure you have it! My research suggest you take about two hours to practice this meditation. Choose a time which is suitable for you and when you feel most at ease. Most of the times it’s quieter in the mornings, but you could also pick a time in the afternoon or even in the evenings. Moreover, choose what feels right for you.

Be Aware Of Your Outfit

Forest Bathing is done outside, so please be aware of your outfit! Dress appropriately according to the season and the weather conditions. When you are Forest Bathing, you won’t be moving actively, so it’s easy for your body to cool down quickly, so please keep this in the back of your mind when you are dressing to go out. Next to that, you don’t need any specific clothing or gear. Just wear what is comfortable for you.

Other Needs And Necessities

Because you’ll  be in nature for a couple of hours, it can be convenient to bring some stuff with you! Grab a backpack and put something to eat and drink in it. A tip I read online is to bring a thermos with some hot tea in it, to drink after your Forest Bath.

You can also put a notebook with a pen in your backpack, to write down your observations and insights that you might have gotten during your Bath. And if needed, put some sun lotion and bug spray in your bag as well. Minimize electronics (turn your phone off during your Forest Bath) and bring something to sit on, like a yoga mat or a pillow. 

While Forest Bathing

Once you start forest bathing to increase your wellbeing, consider these tips:

Arriving In Nature

When you have arrived in nature, open your senses. Walk in a calm, but aware manner, trying to make contact with nature through all of your senses. Smell the forest, listen to the wind going through the leaves and hear the birds chirp. Feel the leaves underneath your shoes.

Try to look at the environment with a child-like view, like everything is new to you. Try to look at the details of every single tree. Be present in that moment and let expectations and thoughts about your busy schedule go as much as you can.

Slowing Down

When you walk in nature, with that open attitude, try to slow down as well. Forest Bathing has nothing to do with hiking or other active exercise, but more so with taking things slowly. You can do this by often standing still, stopping to access your senses and moving as slowly as you can. I think walking isn’t even the best word when you talk about Forest Bathing. I think wandering is a better fit.

Be Aware

When you have slowed down and have used your senses, for a moment think about what you are feeling. What are you perceiving? What’s there with you? How does your body feel? Do you experience light and energy, or do you feel tired? Let all these questions flow through you. Let it happen. If you notice yourself getting distracted or when you start to feel rushed, just stop and focus your attention on something near you. Try to get back into the moment. And when you feel calm again, you can move further. One of the tips I read online for this, is to take off your shoes and walk barefoot. It keeps you grounded and in the moment even more!

Go To Your Favorite Spot To Sit Down

At the end of your Forest Bath you find a spot to sit. This usually takes at least 20 minutes and this part of Forest Bathing is one of the best methods of connecting with nature. This part also looks a lot like regular meditating, except you already opened up your senses by wandering to your sit-spot and you already had some thoughts go through you. By sitting still in nature, you’ll connect with your environment. It cultivates awareness of yourself and others around you. You’ll probably notice that things will reveal itself to you, the longer you sit. You can write these down when you are done, so you can bring them into practice later.

On the image, there is a woman sitting in the kitchen and drinking a cup of coffee.
Photo credits: Tina Dawson

What To Do After Forest Bathing?

After finishing your forest bathing session, you will notice improvements in your wellbeing. It would be a shame to leave that in the nature. Here are some tips on what to do after your forest bathing session.

Take It Home With You

Every time you’ll Forest Bathe, you’ll take something home with you. An insight, a memory or even a revelation. You can use these in daily life, also on days where you don’t have time for Forest Bathing or another meditation.

But that’s not all. You can also use the techniques you use in your Forest Baths at other times. The mindfulness of Forest Bathing can easily be used around your house or your workplace.

Just stop your daily schedule for a moment, get a good look at the things that surround you. What do you hear? What do you smell? How does your clothing feel on your body? How does that make you feel? These questions keep you grounded.

Going Back

It may take you a while before finding a spot for Forest Bathing that really suits you. So it may be the case that you have to try out different locations. But if you have found that nice place in nature, don’t hesitate to return to it!

Going back to the same place stimulates a stronger connection with nature, because you will get to know this place and learn all about it. You can see how nature changes within seasons and over time.

How To Implement Forest Bathing In Daily Life

I already said a few things about how to take the practice of Forest Bathing into your daily life. But I’d also like to mention a few ways to Forest Bathe at home. Because not everybody has the time to go Forest Bathing on a regular basis and it’s also not always as accessible. 

Nature Sound Apps

Exercise your ears with nature sounds! Nature sounds are relaxing and they can easily be accessed with apps like Spotify! Just type in nature sounds or forest sounds and you are good to go. Another tip I received was the app Naturespace which apparently is amazing because they record the sounds in a different way. Somebody said to me that listening to it through headphones is a delight!

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is actually one of my favorite things. You can practice your nose with scented candles, diffusers or incense. You get a bonus point if you use scents like cedar or pine, which will really make you feel like you’re in a forest. It’s a great way to add a little bit extra Forest Bath-feel when you are practicing the techniques at home.

For instance, you may want to have a look at this forest pine scented oil. It will bring the smell of the woods into your home. Amazing!

Plants

Next on we move to sight! I already mentioned that looking at nature will help you feel more relaxed because it lowers your blood pressure and cortisol levels. So why not add a little bit of nature to your home? It’s okay if you don’t have green fingers, there is a plant out there for everybody. And not only are plants good for Forest Bathing at home, they also improve the air quality in your home, so that’s a win-win in my opinion!

Time To Use Forest Bathing To Improve Your Wellbeing

Now that you have discovered all these tips, it is time to implement forest bathing as part of your wellbeing routine. If you’d like to read more about this topic, here are some books that you may enjoy:

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness – Qing Dr. Li

Forest Bathing Retreat: Find Wholeness in the Company of Trees – Hannah Fries

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative – Florence Williams

Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing – Yoshifumi Miyazaki

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