Forest Bathing: The Powerful Therapeutic Tool of ‘shinrin-yoku’

Shinrin-yoku is literally translated from ‘shinrin’ which in Japanese means ‘forest’, and ‘yoku’ meaning ‘bath’ and describes deliberate


Why are pedorthists talking about ‘forest bathing’?!?  There are some subjects that we come across in our relentless pursuit of inquiry into holistic health that just can’t be overlooked.  Although many of you won’t be surprised with the concept, forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku (from its roots in Japan as a research proven therapeutic tool since 1982), is a powerful step to health and happiness that we feel needs (perhaps more than ever) to be shared.


Shinrin-yoku is literally translated from ‘shinrin’ which in Japanese means ‘forest’, and ‘yoku’ meaning ‘bath’ and describes deliberate practice of immersion in nature to take in the smells, sounds, open space, and visual and visceral experience.  The name was given by Japanese researchers who studied its direct effects on human physiology and our overall health.

There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or not, and however covered by cares and duties.  [John Muir]

While it’s been researched for more than thirty years (and in Japan there are over sixty Forest Bathing clinical establishments), its potential benefits to one’s health aren’t formally in western mainstream consciousness. The study of nature immersion began as a potential method to counteract the increase in stress all over the world, including Japan. Now more than ever, our disconnect to nature is highly prevalent.  Our cities are getting denser and for many, we have officially become an urban species. Urban dwelling has risen from 749 million people in 1950 to over 3.2 billion by 2014. The majority are indoors 93% of our waking hours and research suggests about 8.5 of those hours are on screens! Our time away from nature and engaged in technology is proving to have numerous harmful side effects.

Some of the main benefits of ‘forest bathing’ include improved sleep, memory, immunity and mood along with a decrease in stress. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers stress as the leading negative factor affecting our health globally. The result in costs to support stress related conditions is $210 billion in the US and $170 billion in the EU per year.

The good news is that a cost free measure to decrease stress and unplug is right outside our doors.  Canada, known for its wide open spaces, calls to us. The heartbreaking truth that nature heals what ails us is a strong sign of our disconnect. Aside from the significant allegory we could make of this, let’s examine the research.

If stress relief was made into a sport, then forest bathing would be the playground.

In the 30 plus years of research into shinrin-yoku, the studies have primarily looked at the benefits of nature immersion on sleep, stress, immunity, mood, and general well being.

 Improved sleep.  Increase length of measured sleep from 8-16%, 15% more sleep for insomniacs.

Increased Mood.  On a POMS (Profile of Mood States) test research saw improved scores, especially with women.

Decrease stress.  Lowered stress response via increased blood pressure & tension,  increased metabolic rate, decreased cortisol & adrenaline, increased heart rate variability.

Improve memory and brain health.  Can increase memory retention by 20% and can improve problem-solving and creativity boosts by 50%.

Improve connection and bonding.  Can increase neurotransmitters (oxytocin, anandamide, vasopressin) that, when produced, help bond us to one another and the surroundings.

Increase immunity.  Notably shown to increase NK cell (immune protective white blood cells and cancer fighting proteins like perforin, granzymes and granulysin) activation and production by 50%!  This is also shown to REMAIN increased for 30 days after only 2 hours of forest bathing!

Improve Cell function.  Negative ions released by open water, and living organic matter reduce inflammation and increases healthy cell metabolism.  Also reduces the harmful exposure we take from technology via electromagnetic frequency (EMFs).

Research suggests that small amounts of forest bathing or nature immersion can offer significant benefits to our immune system, inflammation levels, and mental health. But larger doses every so often (like a 2 hour walk in the woods each month) have been shown to offer strong lasting effects.  Many books on the subject are available but two recommendations we have are Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li or Your Guide to Forest Bathing by M. Amos Clifford.

A forest-bathing trip once a month is enough to maintain a high level of natural killer cell activity. [Dr. Qing Li]


For many of us, it can be difficult to make our way to the forests.  With that said, we can make a significant shift in our health, mood, and energy levels without leaving the home/office.  Hard to replace being out in nature but these steps have been shown to help act on most of the benefits of getting into the forests nearest you.

Diffuse essential oils!  Smell is one of the most primal senses and alone activates NK cells via what's called phytoncides and is shown to increase cortisol,  increase total sleep, and increase heart rate variability.  Most effective scents have been shown to be: Pine, Fir, Spruce, Conifer or Cedar.  For a deeper dive into research on essential oils check here.

Natural aromatherapy.  Candles and incense, or cedarwood shavings in a bowl.

Adjust your lighting!  Difficult in office spaces but try to get as much natural lighting as possible into your indoor spaces to help balance your circadian rhythm.  Reduce lighting in the brightest parts of the day. Shut off bright lights at night and avoid screen devices (children and adolescents are twice as likely to have negative impacts from irregular timing of artificial lighting).

Exercise, train and stay active outside.  Find open spaces in nature to walk, hike, run, stretch, or do your favourite workout.

Bring plants inside.  Indoor plants help with purifying, humidifying, and releasing negative ions (the good kind!)) into the air while decreasing tension, decreasing anxiety, and decreasing blood pressure!

Nature sounds.  Like smell, natural sound engages implicit memories of nature (from our ancestry) which can soothe the nervous system.  Like at a spa (ahhhh), playing ambient rain, lapping waves, or night crickets can drop us into nature via our ears.

The act of getting outside into fresh air, sun and nature can seem so simple and yet, these days needs to be a deliberate act.  Strong research can be a catalyst to help us make better choices and in the case of shinrin-yoku, this is well established and diversely promising to our health. Lots of good reasons to add going outside as another ‘vitamin’ to a healthy life.

When going into the forest try to do it with reverence before utility.  Going for a hard, fast run on your favourite trail loop can be hugely beneficial, but also physiological stressful.  Just don’t miss out on going slow, taking notice of the sights and sounds, paying attention to the smells, and engaging the environment with touch and interaction.  This way we get all the benefits out of our ‘forest bathing’ sessions.

Nature heals.  So simple, so beautiful.

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