The Japanese meditation practice is finding its way into American spas.
There are a couple things to clear up about forest bathing. First of all, it doesn’t involve actual bathing. Second, it requires leaving the spa altogether.
Forest bathing is a traditional Japanese ritual—otherwise known as Shinrin-yoku—that takes participants on a short, sensory stroll through a forest. (A similar Korean practice exists, called Sanlimyok.) The mind focuses on the sights, smells, and sounds, and the benefits are plentiful; It produces a hormone that helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Also, by breathing in the essential oils produced by trees (known as phytoncides), forest bathers can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and restlessness. Immunity is heightened; one 2006 study states that phytoncide exposure significantly increases anti-cancer protein production. Most people can speak firsthand to nature’s ability to calm the nerves, and Shinrin-yoku leans heavily into that phenomenon by surrounding bathers with dense woods.
The practice is fairly simple: Put away your daily distractions, whether they’re in your head, your home, your inbox, or your phone. Notice how many organisms exist in this small space such as trees, flowers, moss, birds, fish. The sounds and smells produced by wildlife, dirt, water, and air are far more stimulating than a typical commute, and more complex than the steady drip of morning coffee.
Some spas are adding forest bathing to the list of offerings. Having a guide can ensure that you visit the most spectacular and stimulating nooks of the woods (without using your phone to navigate), and these experts know when to point out something worth your focus, as well as when to let silence play its part. It's like yoga or cycling, in that you can certainly do it on your own, but having an expert at the helm allows you to focus on the results, and will heighten the experience.
Here, three to try: