Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, began in Japan during the 1980s as a technique for preventative health care and healing. The intention of the practice was to counter the noise and clutter of urban life with a return to the forest — to heighten and renew all the senses.
“The idea of taking a walk in the woods is not new,” explains Kate Sim, head of spa operations for the Oberoi Group, which operates the world’s leading forest bathing spa on 8,000 acres in the Siswan Forest in New Chandigarh, India. “People have always sought and found refuge in nature. It has become a trend again only because we now realize that excessive screen time is energy-depleting, and therefore, exhaustion is commonly pushing people to rediscover the healing power of nature.”
This could not be more relevant during pandemic times. People have reestablished the need to calm down and slow down, even if just momentarily. Here in Colorado people have always taken to the woods for refuge and refresh, but now, there are people wandering throughout the trees and forests with new purpose, and by the dozens!
Forest therapy or forest bathing walks can be led by a trained guide to open up the five senses to experience nature’s “medicine” as the mind quiets and the senses begin to awaken. Guided walks follow a sequence to help participants connect mindfully. This can be alone or with a community; it exceeds the boundaries of individualism when nature is involved.
There is a world-wide forest bathing association. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) is the most experienced global leader in forest therapy guide training. It was founded in 2012 as a response to global warming and other environmental catastrophes. Their program draws on the latest medical research, new developments in the field of nature connection and ancient traditions.
Their heart-based “Relational Forest Therapy” approach focuses on rebuilding relationships with the ‘More-Than-Human World’ as a foundation for healing people and planet.
The reason an introductory bath with these guides might be useful is to queue up the senses that can be suppressed or hard to tap into. And, like many other healthy physical and mental workouts, forest bathing is not a one-time event, it can become routine, seasonal or a valued retreat.
In Colorado, there was once only a handful of shinrin-yoku each year. Now, almost every region has the opportunity to learn about the health practice, and many can be free.
In February 2022, Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center presented a no-cost, two-and-a-half-hour introduction to forest therapy. At The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs, they offer a forest bathing hike six days a week. The Resort also promotes that, “Science has found that trees give off essential oils called ‘phytoncides’ to help protect their surroundings — including you — from harmful insects, germs and viruses.”
Leona Campbell of Wind in Pines LLC offers public and private forest bathing walks near Crestone, Colorado in the San Luis Valley. She is a certified forest therapy guide through ANFT. The City of Boulder puts on forest therapy walks each summer, and Denver Botanic Gardens also has seasonal events.
Whether you already enjoyed walking through the forest or find it foreign, adventure into the wilderness with new purpose and sense of healing with shinrin-yoku.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved cardiovascular and immune system functioning
- Reduced stress with decreased production of cortisol/stress hormones
- Increased production of disease fighting NK (natural killer) cells
- Increase in energy, focus, creativity and sense of wellbeing
- Improved sleep and mood
Originally published in Summer + Fall 2022 issue.
JULIE BIELENBERG is a Colorado-based writer producing over 75 pieces a year for outlets such as AAA, Rachel Ray in Season, Cayman Airways, Caribbean Journal, Cowboys & Indians, USA Today, Vail Daily and numerous others. She has been the state’s #1 agritourism for 10 consecutive years and is always in search of field, farm, forest and forage. Julie has three children, a pandemic puppy and an avid, outdoors husband.