Your mother knew what she was talking about when she told you to go outside and play. Science has confirmed that spending time in nature benefits human health, physically and emotionally—reducing stress, alleviating depression, and speeding physical recovery. At the center of current interest in the healing power of nature is a practice called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.
Forest bathing is simple: Leave your smart phone behind, find a place with trees, and drink in the calm and green as you amble, picnic, meditate, practice Tai Chi or yoga, or just breathe. Almost any activity will do; the goal is to be there and be present, without the distractions of modern life. The idea seems to resonate with readers: Several titles on forest bathing were published in 2018, but the topic has gathered steam in 2019, with at least a dozen new and forthcoming books.
Forest Bathing: Discovering Health and Happiness through the Japanese Practice of Shinrin Yoku by Cyndi Gilbert (St. Martins Essentials, May), the second title in SME’s new line of Start Here Guides, introduces readers to the art and science of forest bathing . Naturopathic physician Gilbert writes, "Imagine a therapy that is completely free, readily available, and virtually without side effects that can radically transform your health by improving your mental health, brain health, heart health, stress resiliency, immune system, and more. It exists, and it’s called ‘nature exposure,’ or forest bathing. Interacting with nature is one of the most effective and easiest health hacks you can incorporate into your life."
Notes SME editor Gwen Hawkes, “The appeal of forest bathing is its simplicity. Many of us intuitively have a connection with nature and know that we feel more relaxed and at peace in that environment. Forest bathing is a natural extension of that inherent feeling and gives people a way to experience that sense of peace and restoration much more strongly and deliberately by using very simple practices.…It's a very simple prescription for healing an overwhelming life.”
The Secret Therapy of Trees: Harness the Healing Energy of Forest Bathing and Natural Landscapes by Marco Mencagli and Marco Nieri, trans. by Jamie Richards (Rodale, July) uncovers the science behind the practice, citing research that demonstrates how exposure to green space can regulate heartbeat, lower blood pressure, reduce aggressiveness, improve memory skills and cognitive function, and foster a healthy immune system. Mencagli—an agronomist specializing in the design and maintenance of public parks and other outdoor spaces, and Nieri—a bioresearcher and specialist in eco-design and environmental protection—write that they intend to provide “an understanding of how we can foster our daily well-being by incorporating nature into our lives—from the forest to the houseplant on our desk,” writing that “humans risk losing their instinctive and animal nature by passively yielding to technology and habit….Nature is full of signs that can guide our adaptive responses toward well-being. It’s just a matter of learning to recognize them better.”
Among other books on the topic are:
The Green Cure: How Shinrin-yoku, Earthing, Going Outside, or Simply Opening a Window Can Heal Us by Alice Peck (CICO, out now) affirms that a trip to a forest isn’t necessary; forest bathing can be as simple as a stroll among trees in a city park.
Nature Therapy: Forest Bathing and Beyond by James Garlits (Greenlight Guide Book 1; out now) extolls the virtues of shinrin-yoku and highlights the evidence for its benefits.
The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing: Finding Calm, Creativity, and Connection in the Natural World by Julia Plevin (Ten Speed, out now) explores both the spiritual and practical aspects of the practice.
The Little Book of Forest Bathing: Discovering the Japanese Art of Self-Care (Andrews McMeel, Sept.) includes inspiring quotes, mantras, and poems, along with guidance.
The Healing Nature Trail: Forest Bathing for Awakening and Recovery by Tamarack Song (Bowker, out now) includes instructions for creating one’s own Healing Nature Trail, like the one at the Healing Nature Center in Three Lakes, Wisconsin.
The Outdoor Adventurer's Guide to Forest Bathing: Using Shinrin-Yoku to Hike, Bike, Paddle, and Climb Your Way to Health and Happiness by Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller (Falcon Guides, July) applies forest bathing principles to a variety of outdoor activities and sports.
Wild Calm: Finding Mindfulness in Forest Bathing by Joan Vorderbruggen (Castle Point, June) is a guided journal with creative exercises and questions to contemplate.