5 April 2019 | Reading 9 mins.

The secret power of Shinrin-yoku

Qing Li
Expert in Forest Medicine and immunology

Qing Li, Expert in Forest Medicine and immunology

The Art and Science of Japanese Forest Bathing

We all know how good being in forests can make us feel. We have known it for millennia. The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air in the forests – these things give us a sense of comfort. They ease our stress and worry, help us relax and to think more clearly. Being in forests can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us. In Japanese, we have a word for those feelings that are too deep for words: shinrin-yoku or forest bathing.

What is forest bathing/shinrin-yoku

The forest environment has long been enjoyed for its quiet atmosphere, beautiful scenery, calm climate, clean fresh air and special good smell. Empirically, forest environments may reduce stress and have a relaxing effect; therefore, walking in forests may have beneficial effects on human health. In Japan, a national health program for forest-bathing or shinrin-yoku was introduced in 1982 by the Japanese Forest Agency for the stress management of workers. Shinrin in Japanese means ‘forest’, and yoku means ‘bath’. Thus, shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through our senses. This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. In 2005, I conducted the first forest bathing study in Iiyama, Ngano prefecture in Japan and the terms of forest bathing and shinrin-yoku in English were first scientifically named and defined by me in this study. Because forests occupy 67% of the land in Japan, forest bathing is easily accessible. Forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

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