Is Forest Bathing Better Than Xanax?


When people think of relaxing, many know going outside helps. But could bathing outdoors be the most relaxing activity of all? (Photo: Instagram/larryhoffman)

While the mere phrase forest bathing might invoke visions of nudists running wild in the trees, that’s not quite it. In fact, you don’t even need to dip a bare toe into a bubbling brook if you’re feeling shy. (Diving into a pile of freshly fallen leaves or immersing yourself in an idyllic stream is entirely optional.) Simply put, forest bathing—an ancient Japanese tradition also known asShinrin-yoku—is just spending time relaxing in a forest, with heightened awareness of your surroundings. When done correctly, the back-to-basics spa treatment is proven to have great restorative healing value for the mind and body, including reduced stress levels and lower blood pressure. The bonus that comes with breathing in fresh air: inhaling antimicrobial compounds, like phytoncides (or wood essential oils) that can induce the release of serotonin. So it comes as no surprise that hotels around the globe—including Sweden’s Treehotel, frequented by supes like Karlie Kloss—are starting to offer forest bathing to guests.

We recently escaped the concrete jungle that is Manhattan to surround ourselves in Mother Nature’s bliss at L’Auberge de Sedona Resort & Spa. At this Arizona retreat, they recently started a forest bathing program in tandem with Amos Clifford, the founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. “Forest bathing is slow, relaxed, and mindful,” explains Clifford. “It is about connecting with the life of the forest through our five senses. It is about falling in love with the world and with our place in it.” Here, a guide to wandering through the woods and going wild.

Related: Soaking in Sake: Japan’s Answer to the Red Wine Bath


(Photo: Instagram/giseleofficial)

How: “Find a forest or a park with some trees to provide a canopy. Look for trails that are wide, follow a loop pattern, have very little elevation change, and feature a diverse ecosystem,” explained Clifford. “Leave your electronics behind; even cameras can be distracting.” Though hotels and spas often provide experienced guides, the pro said it’s fine to go the trail alone. “Simply wander and enjoy sensory experiences—like the view of a stream, the sounds of birds, the changing aromas as you move along the trail, the texture and tastes of the air you are breathing, and the many patterns and forms of the world around you.” Clifford suggests a two-hour jaunt that covers a mile in length, but the purpose isn’t so much to burn calories as it is to “move mindfully.” When your body “tells you your walk is complete,” finish by “expressing your gratitude to the forest.”

When: “It’s no one-time event—I recommend once a week,” said Clifford. “The effects are cumulative…you will likely notice these within about four weeks of starting.” While you may not perceive an immediate change on the trail, the pro noted that “you may feel a wonderful, subtle energy flowing through you, or just notice that you are more relaxed about things” at random points during the week. We’ll take it.

Why: Scientists can’t exactly quantify the benefits of a light hike like they could a prescription pill, but “researchers have measured a wide range of beneficial physiological and emotional changes that come about with even a brief forest bathing experience,” said Clifford. “In the forest—particularly when there is a trained guide who can help us slow down and really attend to our sensory experience—our bodies very quickly find their way home, to a rebalanced and revitalized state.”

By Kristen Tice Studeman

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