We all know that too much time spent indoors, secluded from the natural world, can be problematic for our psychological and physical health. Did you know that trees contain essential oils called phytoncides which induce a sense of well-being? Studies indicate that even just looking at images of nature can promote relaxation. A new trend is hitting America that, like yoga and meditation, comes from the east: shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.”

Originally coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982, the term shinrin-yoku literally translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” and refers to the process of immersing oneself in the sights, smells and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health. The practice of forest bathing has an impressive research base and has been shown to improve immune system function, reduce the presence of stress hormones in the body, and to lift depression. Like meditation and yoga, forest bathing can be done with a guide and a group, or it can be an activity that’s done solo or with a friend.

Many people wonder how forest bathing differs from a hike. With shinrin-yoku, there is not necessarily a set trail or destination, and it is not done for fitness purposes. The point is to linger and take your time, simply paying attention to various experiences picked up through the five senses while in the forest: the sound of running stream, the feeling of the breeze on your skin, the delicate patterns of veins in a fallen leaf, or the scent of fresh soil in the air. The key is to stay as immersed as possible in your moment-to-moment experience in the forest as a curious observer. Focus on noticing and deepening your breathing as you do so.

If this is a practice you’d like to learn more about and try, here are some resources to get you started. Happy forest bathing!