Do you suffer from NDD? If so, you’re not alone. In a world where a growing majority of the global population lives in cities and the average American spends 93 percent of their time indoors, many of us are at risk of ‘nature-deficit disorder.’ While NDD isn’t a formal diagnosis, studies show that humans just aren’t meant to spend most of our day inside—after all, 99.9 percent of our evolutionary history was in natural environments. So how do we get back to our roots (literally) and reconnect with nature? Enter: Forest bathing.
It may sound like a trendy spa treatment, but forest bathing is rooted in ancient tradition. Known as shinrin-yoku in Japanese (“shinrin” means “forest” and “yoku” means “bath”), forest bathing is the practice of immersing yourself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. This practice benefits your body and your mind: Studies show that frequent forest bathing reduces the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, and even gives your immune system a boost.
“The whole idea is that you really slow down,” says Melanie Choukas-Bradley, a certified forest therapy guide whose book The Joy of Forest Bathing will be published this fall. “You breathe deeply, take in the sights and sounds, listen to the birds, taken in the fragrances, and just relax.” Here are Choukas-Bradley’s four tips for getting started:
- “In Japan, some people go for a whole weekend,” says Choukas-Bradley. But if you aren’t ready to commit to an entire weekend in the woods, start with your lunch break: A study published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine tested people at two dozen different forest sites and found that after just 20 minutes of walking in nature, participants’ cortisol levels (the body’s “stress hormone”) were 15.8 percent lower than that of people in urban settings.
- To get the health benefits of forest bathing, you have to truly connect with nature—which means leaving your headphones behind and unplugging from your phone completely. “I think of the airplane mode on my phone as ‘forest bathing mode’,” says Choukas-Bradley. Considering that, on average, we spend upwards of nine hours a day staring at screens, most of the people who sign up for her forest bathing walks are all too happy to follow her lead. In fact, Choukas-Bradley says, “What I find on my walks is that people don’t want to go back to having their phones on!”
Become a Regular
- The more often you do forest bathing, the more health benefits you get. Find a place nearby that you can return to as often as possible. “I recommend that people find a place near where they live,” adds Choukas-Bradley, who regularly leads walks at the National Arboretum and other Washington, D.C., area parks and forests. (For a certified guide in your area, check the locator map on the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides website.) It can even be your own backyard. “Find a space near where you live and think of it as your ‘wild home’,” she says.
Invite in Inspiration
- Choukas-Bradley always starts her walks with a quote by John Muir. “Another glorious day / the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue” is her favorite. Say the quote to yourself a few times while breathing deeply. On her guided walks, she will give guests periodic invitations, such as “Enjoy the pleasures of presence,” and “Notice what’s in motion.” During that time, she encourages people to tune into the sounds, smells, and sights around them, for example, “You may close your eyes. Take turns focusing on different senses.” This exercise transforms a passive experience to an active one and “you begin to connect with the nature around you,” she says.
Hannah Wallace is a Portland-based journalist and editor who writes about integrative medicine, sustainable agriculture, and wine for Food & Wine, Vogue, Fast Company, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @Hannahmw23.