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Get Your Mind Squeaky Clean With a Forest Bath

Updated: May 17

Forest bathing for the mind, body and soul

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to highlight a healing practice called forest therapy. This idea was popularized in Japan in the 1980s as a health promotion method to combat stress and stress-related illnesses with Shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing. It was specifically intended to ward off “technostress,” or unhealthy behaviors around new technology, and while that term didn’t exactly catch on, technostress is still very much relevant today in our increasingly online world that encourages us to constantly be connected (Hansen et al., 2017).

An image of a misty forest with the text "Mental Health x Forest Bathing" to accompany M.E. Society's collaborative blog with Kim Whitesell.

We can do so much on the internet, and yet, nothing in that environment replaces… well, the environment. The benefits of nature are often covered on this blog and today, we have a new resource to share with you. Forest therapy can kick these mental health boosts up a notch by tying them to mindful engagement of the outdoors, enhancing your ability to reduce stress and mental health struggles, improve your mood, and even increase your creativity. A study performed in Japan to quantify the effects of Shinrin-yoku even showed decreased salivary cortisol concentration, among other indices associated with stress, when compared to similar activities in an urban environment (Park et al., 2008). A subsequent meta-analysis supports the positive physiological impacts of forest therapy when practiced regularly, though more studies need to be performed (Antonelli et al., 2019). Anecdotally, it certainly doesn’t hurt to spend more time away from screens and in nature.

So how does one forest bathe? In case you were wondering, no, you do not need to go sans clothing! You also don’t need any special equipment. Just bring a willingness to connect to nature with your senses. You may even be doing some form of this activity already, but we will provide a framework you can use to try this practice next time you’re outside. 

Give it a go yourself!

  • Find a spot in nature where you’re able to focus without much distraction, avoiding busy trails. The denser the forest, the greater the benefit, but any outdoor setting can be beneficial.

  • Your goal isn’t to see how much ground you can cover, but how in depth you cover the ground you’re on. Dedicate at least 20 minutes to gain the benefits, and keep your phone and other tech out of reach. Intentionally give yourself permission to disconnect.

  • Practice taking a few deep, calming breaths throughout your time (unless this doesn’t serve you). One simple technique that’s easy to remember: exhale twice as long as you inhale.

  • Pay attention to your senses one at a time. Get curious about what you notice, focusing on non-judgmental, fact-based observation. Here are some ideas, again, only use what serves you:

  • Sight: Take in all your surroundings, look up, look down, widen your vision, narrow your vision, far away sights, near sights, number of colors you see, notice plants in different parts of their life cycle, light vs. dark environments

  • Hearing: Close sounds, far sounds, sounds you make in the forest vs. sounds from other living things, listen to the wind as it travels through various objects

  • Smell: Notice dry vs. damp scents, fresh air, see what different flowers smell like

  • Touch: Carry a small rock, dip your hand in a creek, sit on the ground, notice the temperature of the wind, touch bark

  • Taste: Steep some pine needles to make a tea (here are some tips to do so safely, it’s not recommended for people who are pregnant), bring snacks and focus on each bite, drink filtered water from a spring

  • Try walking slowly, sitting down, lying in a meadow.

  • As a good steward, be sure not to disturb habitat.

  • If you find yourself distracted, know this is completely normal and gently bring your attention back to your observations.

  • The effects of this practice are most beneficial when experienced regularly. You might even consider finding a spot that’s easy for you to return to each week.

Prefer a guide?

  • If you are interested in a facilitated experience, check out the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs website, which maintains a global directory of certified forest therapy guides and practitioners.

  • Find guided meditation to listen to in nature that focuses on forest therapy as a theme and follow their prompts.

Happy forest bathing!


  1. Antonelli, M., Barbieri, G. & Donelli, D. Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Biometeorol 63, 1117–1134 (2019).

  2. Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K. Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Jul 28;14(8):851. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14080851. PMID: 28788101; PMCID: PMC5580555.

  3. Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y, Kasetani T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):18-26. doi: 10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9. PMID: 19568835; PMCID: PMC2793346.

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