Forest bathing – Japanese relaxation and mindfulness method

Forest bathing Japanese relaxation and mindfulness method

Nowadays, more and more people suffer from stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure, chronic headaches, sleep disorders or even burnout. Professional expectations, social pressure and the steadily increasing exposure to electromagnetic radiation such as Wifi, Bluetooth and cellular communications are a burden for many. The feeling of overwhelm and tense in their everyday life is not uncommon. In order to stay healthy, it is important to find a suitable counterbalance to these stressful situations. In addition to relaxation and mindfulness techniques, forest bathing can be helpful to achieve this.

In our article, you’ll find out about:

  • what forest bathing is;
  • why and how it works;
  • what exactly you should pay attention to when forest bathing;
  • how you can increase the relaxation effect even more.

What does forest bathing mean?

Shinrin Yoku, Japanese for “bathing in the forest”, is recognized in Japan as part of a healthy lifestyle. The forest ministry there coined the term back in 1982. It describes the awareness of the forest with all of the senses. Forest bathing is about relieving stress, avoiding negative thoughts and immersing yourself completely in the forest. Thus, it is a mindful stay in the forest, where the focus is on taking in the forest atmosphere and close contact with nature.

Forest bathing should help to:

  • relax
  • draw new joie de vivre
  • replenish energy reserves.

Forest bathing in Japan, USA and Europe

Shinrin Yoku has been established in Japan for decades and is even recognized by conventional medicine. It is officially part of Japanese preventive healthcare, due to  the many published studies that prove its effectiveness. This is why doctors prescribe it and why forest medicine is taught and researched at universities in Japan.

Forest bathing is also a recognized therapy in the USA. In the meantime, the trend has arrived in Europe and Germany and researchers are studying the effects of forest bathing. To date, it has not yet been recognized as a form of therapy in Germany and is not covered by health insurance companies.

Why does forest bathing work?

The so-called forest interior climate is characterized by a few peculiarities. It is because:

  • the trees keep sun rays out, resulting in cooler temperatures.
  • water evaporates, creating a higher level of humidity.
  • the trees release oxygen, which all living things need to breathe.
  • the trees produce essential oils that have a balancing effect.

According to color psychology, the green of the trees is also said to calm the nerves and stimulate the immune system.

What does science say about forest bathing?

Japanese Studies in Forest Bathing

Japanese scientists have been studying the effects of forest on the human psyche and physique for decades. According to them, even a short forest bath improves breathing, pulse and blood pressure.

Researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo laid the scientific foundations for this, including Quing Li, a world leader in forest medicine. His aim is to make forest medicine an internationally recognized science. In one study, Li sent hundreds of subjects on a walk. Half to the city, the other half to the forest. The subsequent blood sample showed that the DHEA hormone concentration was unchanged in the urban group, but significantly increased in the forest group. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is the most abundant steroid hormone in the human body. It maintains the cardiovascular functions and prevents heart diseases.

Quing Li ascribes central importance of this effect to the messenger substances of the trees in his work. He researched the effects of terpenes that evaporate from the bark and leaves of trees, shrubs and other plants. Terpenes are phytoncides used by plants for communication and defense against enemies. In one study, the scientist sent twelve test subjects into the forest for a whole day. The subsequent blood analysis showed that the content of natural killer cells had increased by almost 40 percent. In another double-blind experiment, he let volunteers stay in a hotel. While they slept, they inhaled terpenic air. The next day, doctors examined the subjects’ blood. Li’s conclusion:

We breathe in the scented cocktail of the trees and absorb it through our skin. […] Anyone who spends a day in the forest has an increased number of natural killer cells in their blood for seven days.

Worldwide scientific references on forest bathing

Psychological approaches

A trip to the countryside makes you happier. According to a study by the “University of Michigan” (2019), whoever spends at least two hours a week in nature, feels more balanced and happier.

What is certain is that the forest is good for us. Biophilia – our love for all living things – was the expression of the evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s. The Austrian biologist Clemens Arvay described our intuitive connection with nature in his 2016 book “The Biophilia Effect” as “the result of an evolutionary process lasting millions of years”.

Peter Wohlleben, German forester and bestselling author, describes the interactions between trees and people. Well-being:

In order to survive, our ancestors had to judge whether a forest is healthy, whether its ecological framework conditions are stable. So people react to the condition of a forest and also to its messenger substances.

As early as 1984, the Swedish researcher Roger Ulrich caused a sensation with a study according to which patients get better faster if they just look into the green. Ulrich had compared the medical records of 46 patients in a Pennsylvania hospital. Half of them looked out of their rooms at a wall, the other at a green space with trees. His conclusion: Those who had a view of the countryside were dismissed a day earlier than the comparison group. In addition, these patients managed to get by on fewer pain relievers. In a later study at a Swedish hospital, Ulrich corroborated his findings.

Climatic approaches

But the microclimate also has an effect. Angela Schuh, Professor of Medical Climatology from the Chair of Public Health and Health Services Research at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, on behalf of the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Swimming Association, evaluated current studies to determine whether natural landscapes have positive effects on health and well-being. Angela Schuh:

We know that people get better faster in a green environment. We feel less stressed and relax, sleep better. The forest has a decelerating effect, the fresh, cool air strengthens and vitalises. […] But we need more studies, more evidence, and above all we have to investigate the length of a stay in the forest that has positive effects.

This is confirmed by researchers who examined 127 studies from 2007 to 2017 for a meta-analysis. They support the biophilia hypothesis and, like Angela Schuh, found that the long-term effects of forest bathing had not yet been adequately proven. Only the Japanese and Korean study results indicated that staying in the forest had a preventive impact on health. These results must be checked for the European area. This is because beech, oak and pine forests may have different effects than Japanese forests with pine, cedar and lark in the partially subtropical climate.

Multifactorial approaches

Hanns Hatt, a renowned odor and taste researcher at the University of Bochum, says that it is not the fragrances / terpenes alone that are good for us, since the amount is minimal, but the fragrance pattern. Hatt:

Most people remember beautiful forest experiences: a walk when they were madly in love. Or mushroom picking with grandmother. Forest conditioning is almost always positive. Our experience is: it’s nice in the forest, it’s good for me.

Andreas Michalsen, doctor for naturopathy at the Immanuel Hospital in Berlin, wrote the book “Healing with the power of nature” and wants to integrate forest bathing into his therapy program at Wannsee. Michaelsen:

Forest bathing is an interaction with nature. It is multifactorial. Terpenes are only part of the picture. The point is not that patients achieve something that they do sports, but rather become aware of themselves, feel themselves. Forest bathing has to do with mindfulness.

Tips for swimming in the forest

On the one hand, there are courses in which you can learn to forest bathe. But you can also try it on your own because there are no rules. Forest bathing is about opening your senses and perceiving your surroundings. What one perceives can be explored. We would be happy to give you a few tips that can help you swim in the forest.

10 tips for perfect forest bathing

  1. Take the time to move around without any pressure. The full power of forest bathing does not unfold after a few minutes. In order  for the body and mind  to benefit optimally from nature, one should spend a few hours or even days in nature.
  2. Unlike hiking or running, it’s not about achieving a specific goal or reaching personal limits. It is much more the conscious perception of the forest that matters.
  3. Use all your senses to perceive the forest in a multifaceted way. Focus on smells, sounds or colors, such as the knocking of the woodpecker, the scent of pine needles, the taste of wild berries or the lush green of young leaves. It can be particularly enriching to walk barefoot through the forest and to ground yourself. Shoes with synthetic soles prevent direct contact and exchange with the forest floor.
  4. Take rest breaks as soon as you feel exertion or get tired.
  5. Rediscover the familiar. Braid grass, collect stones, acorns, chestnuts or find a walking stick.
  6. Try to be present in the present moment instead of planning the next day.
  7. Avoid distractions. It is therefore imperative that you switch your mobile phone off or into airplane mode.
  8. Pack enough provisions.
  9. You can start meditation to increase the relaxation effect. For example, you can turn your walk into walking meditation in which you are very consciously aware of every movement of your body. Or balance over tree trunks. Follow your intuition.
  10. Focused breathing is very effective in relieving stress. With a little practice, you can even increase your breathing volume and relax more quickly with conscious breathing techniques. Read our article “Reducing stress – why relaxation is important“, in which we give specific tips on conscious breathing.

Important information about forest bathing

Avoid walking in the dark. The risk of getting lost or injured is higher. Forest bathing can become a stressful situation.

Forest bathing unfolds beneficial effects. However, it cannot replace medication or therapy. Forest bathing has a purely preventive effect and is therefore a measure of general health care.

Where can you go forest bathing?

In the forest, of course. And you can find it all over the world. There is sure to be an idyllic forest near you, because it doesn’t have to be the Bavarian Forest or the Harz Mountains. Small forests also offer ideal opportunities for forest bathing. Sweden and Finland have the largest shares in Europe with over 70% forest area. With around 11.4 million hectares of forest area, Germany is also one of the most densely forested countries in Central Europe.

Particularly noteworthy in Germany is the “first European spa and medicinal forest” in the Baltic Sea resort of Heringsdorf on Usedom. The 187 hectare area, which was created in 2016, is a model for a medicinal forest in Bad Doberan near Rostock and for other communities in the forest and water-rich Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which benefit in particular from the mild, stimulating climate with changing bioclimatic intensity (sea breeze).

Forest bathing training

You are interested in a course. In Germany you can find them in a few different places, for instance at the Academy for Forest Bathing and Health or at  the Bundesverband Waldbaden BVWA e.V. But there are also training opportunities in other countries, such as at the Institute for Forest Bathing in Austria or the Forest Bathing Academy in Switzerland. This is particularly interesting for alternative practitioners, meditation teachers, environmental educators, relaxation educators and burnout coaches. Forest bathing can complement therapies and open up new therapy options. The training is usually completed within a few days. It covers mindfulness, meditation, breathing and physical exercises as well as the effects of forest bathing on the body and nature conservation.


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Take your mobile Qi device with you for forest bathing

In order to further increase the relaxation effect thanks to forest bathing, we recommend that you take one of our mobile Qi devices – Qi-Mobile or Qi-Shield – with you for forest bathing. In addition to a conscious lifestyle and the reduction of electromagnetic sources of interference in your environment, Qi technology can have a supportive effect thanks to natural light frequencies. You can also use modern, digital communication technology with our technology without feeling restricted.

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