All About Forest Bathing
Written by Bethany Kilgore
**Be sure to read to the end to see a chance for a free Forest Bathing Session.**
When you’re an accountant, or a recruiter, or a teacher - these are common roles many are familiar with. So when I tell individuals I’m becoming certified as a forest bathing guide, I often get a lot of silence and blank stares - the kind of looks where the eyes seem to say, “does not compute.”
Or there will be those who ask if we literally undress and take a bath in nature. It makes sense to think this is what forest bathing is and why you might shy away from something which sounds so risqué. You hear the word “bathing” - which means to immerse yourself in water. When linking it to the preceding word - “forest” - the brain creates a graphic image that might cause you to blush!
Well, I’m here to say the brain’s attempt to make meaning of these words in this way is not accurate. So what is forest bathing then? Simply put, it’s a slow walk outdoors, allowing you to (re)connect with nature through your senses. Why the word bathing then? Just as in the explanation above, when you bathe, you immerse yourself. So we use bathing as a way to say when you’re in nature, you’ll be in an immersive experience. Voilà!
Forest bathing beginnings
Many think of forest bathing as an ancient practice but it’s relatively new. Back in the 1980s, with the rise of the tech boom, the Japanese Ministry of Health began to see the health of their workforce deteriorating. In particular, they saw a spike in cases of cancer and autoimmune disease. Additionally, more than 50% of workers suffered from anxiety or stress. Individuals wanted to get to the root of this problem and started studying ways in which to help. The short version of these efforts is scientific evidence proved forests are good for people’s overall health. The long version from one of many studies goes in-depth on how certain chemicals released in nature have healing properties. The full study can be read here. The practice was named Shinrin-Yoku by the Japanese government in 1982 and became known as the process of taking in the atmosphere of and making contact with the forest to enhance health.
Wait, there are forests in North Texas?
I was asked recently, “where are the forests for your forest bathing?” It was an honest and sincere question from someone who knows our North Texas communities are increasingly becoming overdeveloped. But yes, there are forests in North Texas. As a McKinney resident for 12 years now, I continue to be amazed by little pockets of forests I find. Some of my recent favorites are the Allen ISD STEAM Center, which is surrounded by a protected Blackland Prairie preserve. Connemara Meadow Preserve and Dayspring Nature Preserve - both in Allen - have some big shade trees, as well as helpful history of the lands and preservation efforts.
But forest bathing can take place anywhere you find nature - a meadow, an ocean, lake, a lone tree in the middle of a parking lot, or even indoors next to plants. I recently attended a forest therapy class where the weather outside went from hot, to cool, to stormy with sideways rain. Due to the conditions, I moved inside and sat next to my plant with a window cracked open to smell the fresh air and hear the raindrops fall. It is quite frankly one of my most favorite sessions to date!
What’s forest bathing like?
To be honest, it’s hard to explain as everyone has their own takeaways from their forest bathing experience. The best way to find out is to experience it yourself by joining one of ExploreMore’s forest bathing sessions! Guides are trained by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) and as such, follow a standard sequence where you begin by connecting with nature, then you shift to gentle activities to connect with your senses, and conclude by gathering together as a group over tea. We do not require participants to be physically fit as we offer safe and gentle walks that cover a distance less than a half a mile. There’s no hiking as we offer a slow-paced walk that focuses on where you are in the present. However, should anyone need assistance during the session, your ANFT guide is always available.
Forest Bathing vs Forest Therapy and other terms you may see
You now know what forest bathing means but you may also see the words forest therapy and wonder what is the difference. There’s a bit of a nuance between forest bathing and forest therapy but you’ll find many people in the U.S. use these words interchangeably.
With both, you’ll have an immersive experience in nature. ANFT uses the term “forest therapy” and trains forest therapy guides. In forest therapy though, guides are not trained as therapists. A common refrain within ANFT’s teachings are, “the forest is the therapist; the guide opens the doors” and they do so through sensory-based invitations. Therefore, whatever therapeutic outcome one may have, is really based on their particular experience found within nature.
In other parts of the world however, forest bathing and forest therapy have very different meanings. In Japan, shinrin means “forest” and yoku translates to “bath” which is described as your whole body touching nature, exploring it through your senses. Forest therapy however, is a prescribed clinical form of therapy conducted by trained practitioners in Forest Medicine. The best way to sum it up is forest therapy and forest bathing are synonymous in the U.S. but may have different meanings in other parts of the world.
Due to the confusion with the terms forest bathing and forest therapy, other terms trained guides might use include earthwalks, forest immersion, immersive nature experience, and nature bathing. All practices offer the same experiences - an opportunity to connect with nature and engage your senses while in the process. This is not meant to replace therapy with a licensed mental health professional but instead be a helpful addition to your mental health journey.
Want to experience forest bathing for yourself?
If it sounds like forest bathing is something you’d like to experience, we’d be delighted to share this practice with you! Please check out the ExploreMore calendar of events as sessions are posted all the time or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to inquire on private sessions.
Written by Bethany Kilgore
Bethany Kilgore lives in McKinney, Texas with her husband and two teens and is an ANFT Forest Therapy Guide in Training. Formerly a long-distance runner and endurance athlete, having completed several marathons, ultra-marathons, half Ironman races and a full Ironman race, she learned she had an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's disease. Taking a hard pivot to slow down (doctor’s orders!) allowed her to find opportunities to reconnect with nature. Aside from forest bathing, she enjoys hiking, outdoor yoga, kayaking and camping. She’s eager to have joined ExploreMore to share her forest bathing practice with others. Follow her on Instagram at @firstnatureexperience where she offers insights from her studies as she learns more about forest bathing.