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Take a Dip in a Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bath)

If you have ever been to a summer camp, you know that week out in the woods with other kids is an exhilarating experience. With all that goes on, you could imagine my surprise when our group leader told us we would be doing some quiet reflection. Quiet reflection? At a summer camp? What was going on?  Our group leader explained to us that what we would be doing was called “forest bathing.” I immediately pictured a swim in a river, but it turned out the practice had nothing to do with a literal bath.  

Bent Tree Ridge Trail at Deer Haven Park

The practice originated in Japan during the 1980s, long before our summer camp experience. Its true title is the Japanese word shinrin-yoku, which comes from shinrin (meaning “forest”) and yoku (meaning “bath”). In Japan, there is a culture of long, stressful working hours; luckily, the country is also home to beautiful forests. People were encouraged to immerse themselves in the woods, breathe in the fresh air, and relax. And so, “forest bathing” – shinrin-yoku – was born. 

The practice is a mindfulness exercise as much as it is a wellness one, known to have emotional, physical, and even spiritual benefits. Spending time outside has been shown to reduce stress, ease depression and anxiety, and improve your immune system. Trees release aromatic oils called phytoncides that have been shown to stimulate the production of killer T cells in the human body, the cells that fight off disease. This means that not only are trees beautiful, but they can also help keep you healthy! 

So how exactly does one “forest bathe?” I was not very good at it that first time – I was used to running, hiking, or climbing in the woods. In contrast, forest bathing is the complete opposite: slowing down and taking in the things that our fast-paced lives usually make us miss. Look, touch, and listen to your surroundings. Leave your electronics behind, clear your schedule, and let your feet take you where they will. A forest is not even required; anywhere there is nature can become a place to reflect. Wherever you feel connected to the earth is exactly where you should be. 

The first time I tried it at camp, I took some deep breaths and looked closely at the ground. I found it was full of life: ants crawling, worms wiggling, fungus patterning the bark of trees. I got lost in the moment, and before I knew it, it was time to head back to the campsite. I walked away with a feeling of peace and a love for reflection that I carry with me to this day. Whenever you can find the time, visit a trail or other natural space and take a walk. Soon, you too will find yourself taking a relaxing forest bath! 

Be on the lookout this summer for the opening of our Mindfulness Trail at Gallant Woods Park ( It is a perfect place to start your shinrin-yoku journey! 


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