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A Wash in the Woods Forest bathing: the latest practice for what ails you

September 2, 2017

It’s not a bath (you’re fully clothed), and it’s not so much a hike, either (you probably won’t break a sweat). It’s called “forest bathing,” the latest in the veritable conga line of Eastern healthcare practices seeking to meander its way into the mainstream.

 

Simply put, you go into nature, engage in a series of low-impact activities, hyper-engage your senses, chill the heck out, and probably be better off as a result—provably so—psychologically and physiologically. “Forest bathing is where yoga and mindfulness was 30 years ago—kind of just getting off the ground, unfamiliar to most,” says Eric Krawczyk (pictured below), of Lee, a licensed mental-health counselor and certified forest-therapy guide who’s seeking to form partnerships between healthcare practitioners and land managers to promote forest bathing.

 

Spas such as Kripalu and Canyon Ranch have begun to integrate forest bathing into their menu of nature prescriptions for the stressed-out set. Ramblewild in Lanesborough has hosted forest-bathing-guide-certification training. Forest-bathing clubs have sprung up just about everywhere. The California-based Association of Nature & Forest Therapy says it plans to train 1,000 guides within the next three years.

 

Spas such as Kripalu and Canyon Ranch have begun to integrate forest bathing into their menu of nature prescriptions for the stressed-out set. Ramblewild in Lanesborough has hosted forest-bathing-guide-certification training. Forest-bathing clubs have sprung up just about everywhere. The California-based Association of Nature & Forest Therapy says it plans to train 1,000 guides within the next three years.

 

So how has something so elemental as a walk in the woods become the latest marketable outdoor experience? Practitioners and advocates say forest bathing’s very simplicity is, indeed, its greatest selling point. “Over the years, as Eastern traditions like yoga have made their way into the mainstream, they’ve pushed the cultural needle that ‘simple and natural is powerful,’” says Dr. Mark Pettus, director of Medical Education and Population Health for Berkshire Health Systems. Pettus and Krawczyk have teamed up to form Hike With Healers monthly events at various trails and forests to educate healthcare providers, particularly primary-care physicians. 

 

So, where has forest bathing been all our lives? Japan. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, in the early 1980s. Facing a crisis in their notoriously overworked citizenry—where people were literally dying from stress—Japan officially integrated forest bathing into its preventative healthcare and healing practices. Since that time, a growing body of research points to its efficacy in lowering blood pressure, blood-glucose levels, and stress hormones.

 

Of course, the notion that a walk in nature is good for you isn’t exactly breaking news. Humans evolved in the natural world, after all, a world devoid of office buildings, fiberglass insulation, and smart phones. Specifically, what forest bathing does is train people to get the most out of their nature experiences. 

“A part of why there is so much disease in our society is because we are disconnected from nature,” says Mark Roule, who leads forest-bathing programs for Kripalu. 

 

“We evolved in such a way that the expectation was we would stay connected to it and it would continue to nourish us and keep us healthy.”

 

Forest bathing can be defined first by what it isn’t. When you go