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Forest bathing: What it is, and why it’s the latest way to de-stress


forest_bathing_flannelIt’s hardly a news flash that being in nature is good for us. And that’s one reason that what used to be known as “going for a walk in the woods”—something we probably all did with our grandparents or as Girl Scouts—has been given the sexy new moniker of “forest bathing.”

Proponents say it stems from the traditional practice of shinrin-yoku in Japan, where a reported 25 percent of people regularly spend contemplative time in nature as a form of recharging their batteries.

And lately, forest bathing has been popping up on spa menus, like so many forest mushrooms after a rainstorm. So much so that Spa Finder named the practice their top wellness trend for 2015.

forest_bathing_yogaThe term can refer to walks in the woods—and more. There are yoga classes in forests from northern California to New England, glass igloos in Finland, and meditation pods suspended from towering trees in Portugal. And plenty of other places offer variations on forest bathing, as private or group sessions.

Javier Suarez, the spa director at the new Six Senses Douro Valley in Portugal’s beautiful wine region, says he got the idea to add forest bathing and NestRest sessions—which employ those hanging pods and come with a picnic basket of hot ginger tea and cookies, as well as an iPod loaded with a guided meditations (they use the Headspace recordings)—as soon as he first visited the in-development hotel.

“I realized there was a magical forest right inside the property,” he says. “As I took a long walk wandering around, I remembered my years in Mendocino, California, and the therapeutic walks we used to take along the redwood forest.”

Forest_Bathing_NESTREST_meditation_pods_trees“I wanted to use our great resources and bring some of our activities back to nature, which is very much in tune with our mission to help people reconnect with themselves, others, and the world around them,” he says.

Science backs him up. Studies show that spending time in a forest can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, improve your mood, increase your energy level, improve your sleep, and increase your ability to focus. (Not bad!)forest_bathing_trees

And the airborne, aromatic chemicals and oils emitted by many trees (called phytoncides) are not just delicious-smelling, they could cut your cancer risk. In a 2006 study, exposure to phytoncides boosted natural killer cells and anticancer proteins by 40 percent.

Even if you can find fault with some of the studies (small sample sizes, for instance), it’s hard to argue that there’s any downside to forest bathing. Except for the fact that there’s no tub. —Ann Abel

More Reading
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Turns out, communing with nature makes you healthier and happier
Channeling Wild: How 8 women were changed by their adventures

(Photo: Flickr and DEDON/Nestrest)