The science behind forest bathing

What can forest bathing do for us?

Forest bathing (or ‘shinrin-yoku’) originated in Japan, and through studies over the last 30 years scientists there have discovered a remarkable range of potential benefits. Key among these are reduced stress, improved mood (e.g. feelings of depression), better sleep and energy levels, and a boost to the immune system.

How does it work?

“one study… has shown that the citrus fragrance of the phytoncide D-limonene is more effective than anti-depressants for lifting mood and ensuring emotional well-being…”

Dr Qing Li, Shinrin-yoku

Japanese researchers believe that up to 50% of the effect of forest bathing comes from the beneficial chemicals produced by trees. These compounds, known as ‘phytoncides’, are used by trees to help ward off infections and insect invasions. We can think of them as similar to ‘essential oils’ – effectively free aromatherapy when we wander under the woodland canopy!

“My concept of comfort is ‘a situation where human and natural rhythms are synchronized’.”

Prof Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Shinrin-yoku

More widely, there is a large body of research showing that humans benefit from looking at and spending time in nature. Some experts believe this is because, having evolved over millions of years in the natural environment, we have an innate need for connection with it. Studies also show that even just having a view of nature can help us relax and recover.

“…after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s ‘fight or flight’ center, the amygdala, appears to shrink… our more primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones.”

Tom Ireland, ‘What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?’, Scientific American

Forest Bathing+ (the version of forest bathing taught by The Forest Bathing Institute) also has a strong focus on ‘mindfulness’. This means aiming to be aware of exactly what we’re experiencing in the present moment, without judgement. Research has revealed that practising mindfulness regularly can actually change the structure of the brain, shrinking zones that are linked with stress, and boosting areas that deal with concentration and memory.

Learn more

If the brief information above has grabbed your interest, you can learn more about the science behind forest bathing and the benefits of nature generally from the following books – all highly recommended by Liz!

  • Shinrin-yoku / Into the Forest by Dr Qing Li (hardback and paperback versions currently have different titles)
  • Shinrin-yoku by Prof Yoshifumi Miyazaki
  • The Nature Fix by Florence Williams