All too often, those handy solutions for stress doctors and therapists swear by only cause city dwellers more stress. I’m supposed to leave my miles-long to-do list and meditate at work, you wonder. Yeah right. That’s why you might have brushed off a new technique from Japan and South Korea gaining popularity in the U.S.: forest bathing.
Sure, forest bathing sounds like a great way to get in touch with your inner Snow White, but you have no idea what this term means even though you’re starting to see it fly around the internet. Plus, hello, you live in a city, so doesn’t something with “forest” in the name automatically exclude you? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s probably easier and absolutely far cheaper than that weekly appointment with your therapist (which we’re in no way saying you should cancel).
So, what is forest bathing?
Banish from your mind all images of those Cialis ads with people soaking in tubs outdoors. Forest bathing, or wellness principles its based on called shinrin-yoku, is simply quitely immersing yourself in the stillness of the forest to calm your frenzied mind and boost feelings of well-being. Or being fully present in nature — no letting your mind sneak off to work problems, people! It’s really that simple, but the health benefits are profound.
Forest bathing can switch on your parasympathetic nervous system. Also called the “rest and digest system,” the parasympathetic nervous system slows your heart rate and allows levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) to drop, which means you can rein in that overwhelming work stress. “This helps reduce stress, boost your mood, and allows your body to restore,” Dr. Frank Lipman, integrative medicine specialist and author of the new book HOW TO BE WELL, explains. Think of it as meditation without the mantras or mats. These enormous health benefits are why Dr. Lipman says it just as vital for health as eating your vegetables.
But you live in the city, isn’t that a problem? Not at all, says Dr. Lipman, who talked exclusively to Metro about how people who live in the concrete jungle can still reap the mental health rewards. We break down his suggestions — and the stress soothing results you can expect — below.
Forest bathing for city dwellers
Let’s set the record straight: You don’t need access to a forest in order to try forest bathing. There’s no denying that forests are ideal and offer unparalleled calm, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch some zen in the city. “Rejuvenation can also be as simple as a lunch break on a bench in a botanic garden or lounging in a park looking at puffy clouds — two options for time-pressed urbanites,” Dr. Lipman told us.
New Yorkers, that means you can even partake on your lunch break. Areas packed with office buildings have public parks that, though they offer no grass, boast trees, flowers and man-made water features that serve the same purpose. Or, you know that park you hit when you’re walking Fido in the morning before work? Set out 10 minutes early, find a bench and pause everything for a couple minutes before you move along. Your pooch will love a closer look at the sights and smells of the park, and you can suppress those stress levels before the work day even starts.
For the record, we did ask about playing that rainforest track over your headphones to see if you could get that same stillness and stress relief while riding the subway. This one’s a no-go if you’re looking to replicate the effects of forest bathing, though Dr. Lipman said some relaxation can be gained by meditating with this as your soundtrack if that’s the sort of thing you like.
Boost your forest bathing results
Stilling your mind and being in nature are both widely recognized as simple things that boost your wellbeing, but we wondered if there was a way to kick it up a notch -- you know, just in case you have that big deadline breathing down the back of your neck.
If you have access to a park that has grass and dirt, you’re in luck, Dr. Lipman tells us. When we asked if “grounding,” the practice of making physical contact with the Earth could amplify the results of forest bathing, he said “there is an additional benefit to getting some dirt between your toes.” And even though this practice is physical, its health benefits are mental. “A recent study showed how a strain of soil bacteria increased serotonin — a powerful mood-boosting chemical — in mice, suggesting that touching soil itself might be a factor in elevating mood.”