(Last Updated on November 9, 2022)
Forest bathing was first popularized in Japan, where it has been scientifically proven to provide a wide range of health benefits including boosting immune function, causing the practice to quickly spread to other parts of Asia (e.g. South Korea) and pique the interest of many in the West. It’s even been explored as a form of therapy by major publications like Time magazine and National Geographic.
In this post, we’ll go over what exactly forest bathing is and its recent popularization, along with the ways it can improve your health and quality of life. We’ll also go over our recommendations on how to get the most out of the experience.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
Japanese researchers have been studying the benefits of forest bathing, and have found that it has positive effects on both a physical and psychological level. Not only does the body naturally benefit from deep breaths of fresh air, free of the carcinogens and pollutants that come with big city living, but trees actually release various compounds which they use as protection from insects and germs called phytoncides.
What are Phytoncides?
Phytoncides are oils that trees naturally produce and release to stave off pests and protect themselves from disease. They are a terpene-based monomer primarily composed of the following terpenes:
α-pinene and β-pinene
α-pinene and β-pinene, which are often found together, have a wealth of health benefits on their own. They can help improve your memory and make you more alert, which is why some people use them to help them focus and concentrate better.
They are both effective at relieving pain and inflammation, and also help improve circulation and reduce stress. α-pinene has been shown to be an effective bronchodilator meaning it can help you breathe better and might especially benefit those with asthma.
Myrcene terpene is a sedative terpene that can help you relax and get a good night’s sleep. It’s also an analgesic, so it can help relieve pain. Myrcene is often used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and sleep. Additionally, myrcene has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties.
Cineole has many health benefits, including helping asthmatics breathe easier(due to its myucolic and bronchodilating properties) and preventing sickness. It can even be found in medicines used to treat coughing and colds. It’s the main constituent of eucalyptus essential oil and can also be found in many other plants associated with healing like rosemary and thyme.
Terpinene is a powerful antioxidant that helps improve your immune system and can help you fight off infection. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, so it can help reduce pain and swelling. Additionally, terpinene has been shown to improve heart health, memory, and cognitive function.
Camphene is a terpene that has a cooling effect. It can be used to treat chest pain, shortness of breath, and anxiety. It can also be used to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Camphene is often responsible for the cooling sensation you feel when taking over-the-counter cough medicine.
Limonene can help keep your immune system strong as an effective antibacterial and antiviral antioxidant. It can also help improve your mood and reduce stress, which is why it’s often found in aromatherapy products marketed as being “uplifting” and “energizing”. Limonene is also known to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, boost metabolism, and aid in blood sugar level regulation.
Not only will simply being among trees actually help you breathe better, but because of the collection of terpenes in phytoncides, breathing them in can lower heart and blood pressure, reduce depression and anxiety, and even boost energy. It’s an overall rejuvenating experience that requires very little effort.
Trees, as well as many other plant species, are constantly releasing phytoncides along with other beneficial essential oils. This causes them to linger in the air in any area heavily populated by trees and tall plantlife, making forest bathing one of the simplest forms of therapy available at little to no cost with effects you can feel immediately.
The Role of Terpenes in Forest Bathing
Understanding how forest bathing affects the body requires an understanding of what terpenes are and how they work. Terpenes are a class of organic hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They are responsible for the aroma and flavor of many plants, and play a significant role in their medicinal properties. Terpenes work on the human body by interacting directly with the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of receptors and enzymes that regulate many physiological processes, including mood, memory, pain, and appetite. Plant compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes bind to ECS receptors in order to modulate their activity, which is to say they are greatly responsible for helping the body maintain homeostasis. This explains why some terpenes are known to have relaxing or uplifting effects, while others can increase alertness or reduce inflammation.
Trying it Yourself
Just as in 1982 when the Japanese government started the Shinrin-yoku health program (which literally translates to “spending more time among trees”), no other activity is required when forest bathing. In fact, it’s recommended that you properly spend this time in quiet contemplation among the trees; no need for jogging, definitely no cell phone or electronic usage, no working out — just taking in the healing benefits the forest has to offer as you quietly stroll.
Forest bathing is especially beneficial to individuals in metropolitan lifestyles due to their lack of exposure to nature in day to day life. You might consider joining forest bathing groups or clubs in your area, which is particularly advisable your first time out. Not only will being in a group help you feel less apprehensive about being in the woods, but the company can make the experience more pleasant.
Forest bathing is a welcome reprieve for those wanting to escape technology and simply rest their eyes and minds. It’s been shown that regular contact with nature improves overall health and sense of well-being. The naturally-occurring terpenes forest bathing exposes you to — along with the tactile sensation of bark, the sound of leaves crunching, and even the sight of a vast green canopy — can all help to heal the body and calm the mind in a way you’ve never experienced before.