Spending time with trees has the elusive effect of making us feel happier and more at peace. Children and dogs are a good example of the demonstrable joy that sentient beings experience while outside. We take note of the diverse shades of green that pepper the sky; our ears perk up at distant bird songs; we’re aware of the rhythmic crunch of dirt and rocks under our boots and we can even feel the hairs on our arms attempt to take flight when a breeze moves through.
We believe in our gut that hunching over bright computer screens in gray windowless cubicles with fake lighting overhead can depress our spirits, and we know that access to green spaces, outside, where the clouds waltz in the lambent sky, is vital for our wellbeing and health.
Nevertheless, studies show that Americans on average spend 89 percent of their time indoors and 5 percent in a vehicle, only leaving 6 percent of our valuable lives to enjoy the outdoors. The silver lining is that you can, of course, change this statistic in your own life and opt outside to experience a clearheaded and stress-free balance.
If you travel to Japan, you’ll notice that there are beautiful parks and flower-filled gardens everywhere—even in Tokyo where the metropolis population swells to nearly 14 million people. People will visit nearby green spaces during lunch, or before heading home, or with their families in tow on the weekends. Shinrin-Yoku is the Japanese art and practice of forest bathing, which pays special attention to the senses—you can even join a forest therapist in Japan to help you slow down and let your speedy mind slacken.
The goal of practicing the art of forest bathing: to spend more time in nature, surrounded by trees, taking in your surroundings slowly. This isn’t the time to get your steps in or keep up with your marathon training. This is the time to see for yourself how nature can be curative, replenishing, and invigorating.
Read our tips below for how to practice the art of forest bathing in your own life — and hear about the road-trip-worthy destinations where you can soak it all in.
Tip No. 1: Leave your phone at home
You’ll want to be device-free in order to experience the full benefits of forest bathing. Our lives are distracting enough and if you have your phone with you, you’ll be tempted to check your e-mail or respond to a text. Unplug.
Tip No. 2: You’re already there
Once you’ve found your starting point—see below for inspiration—let go of needing to get from point A to B or to a specific place. The journey is the whole point. Wander slowly, aimlessly, taking in your 360-degree environment.
Tip No. 3: Engage your senses
Start to notice everything in your path. Touch the rough bark on the trees, consider taking your shoes off and letting your feet feel the cool grass, and smell the roses (figuratively and literally). Connect with nature in the way that small children do instinctively—littles are all about rolling around on the greensward, picking up a dirt-covered worm, finding a good stick in the muck and inhaling the fresh air.
Tip No. 4: Read a book
Check out Dr. Qing Li’s book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. Li’s book has loads of tips on not only how to practice forest bathing outside, but also how to bring nature indoors (plants, woodsy smelling aromatherapy diffusers, open windows, etc.).
Travel: Places to go & breathe
We could list copious amounts of stunning places in the U.S. where you can crack open all of your senses and let the light in—America’s best idea, our National Parks, are exquisite highlights of course. Forest preserves and state lands are also plentiful and perfect for experiencing nature’s bounty—from sea to shining sea. You’ll also benefit by simply spending time in your own backyard, where there are trees, plants and flowers to see.
For some unique inspiration, however, should you want to do as John Muir did and go into the forest “to lose my mind and find my soul,” here are a few off-the-beaten path ideas that will most certainly tip the needle in the happiness direction on your forest bathing journey.
Removing ourselves from our daily to-do lists, and plunging into a desired environment, is sometimes what it takes to create space in our hectic lives for the great outdoors. Enter: REI Adventures, the thoughtful travel company that cuts to the quick and fully immerses travelers in nature.
REI plans trips around the globe to spectacular places like Sri Lanka and Costa Rica, and they have a vast list of destinations around the U.S. Get dirt under your nails and connect with trees on a hut-to-hut hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail, go where the buffalo roam on a Yellowstone Family Adventure, squish your toes in the moss on the Olympic National Park Family Adventure or spend five days in the Yosemite valley. Whether you travel with friends or family or go at it alone, you’ll discover some of the most beautiful places our country has to offer.
Take the long way around: train travel
Perhaps a road trip north to the Canadian Rockies will hit the spot. Board the award-winning Rocky Mountaineer in Vancouver and see mountains like you’ve never seen them before within the glass-domed train. Look for grizzly and black bears from the alfresco vestibule and witness how the natural tree-thick rugged landscape changes as you travel from Vancouver to Kamloops to Lake Louise to Banff on the First Passage to the West.
You’ll see capacious ranch lands, lovely lake shores, deep canyons and glaciers as you glide through tunnels and mountain passes on one of the most picturesque train rides in the world. And, just as forest bathing teaches us to be in the moment and enjoy nature’s beauty as it surrounds us, once you step on the train, you will be enveloped in the thick of it on all sides.
Connect with animals too
A big part of being in the natural world is encountering animals. Whether you join The Resort at Paws Up’s Cowgirl Spring Roundup in April, the Fish and Feast at the end of August, or the Cowboy Experience in October, you’ll spend time among the evergreen trees and walk along the pine cone-covered nature paths. Breathe in the fresh Montana air while horseback riding, sitting around the campfire, or simply by relaxing in a rocking chair outside on the deck. See bison, visit the petting zoo, and watch the cattle in the pasture.
Go on a digital detox, pay attention to all five of your senses, and be inspired by the weathered landscape.
Imagine a serene place that bans motor vehicles and utilizes horses as the only modes of transportation. Enter: Mackinac Island and Mission Point, one of the best places to watch the sun rise. Mackinac Island, which sits on Lake Huron, between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, is mostly protected as a tree-filled state park. Hike and bike on over 70 miles of car-free trails, see arched limestone rock formations and unwind at Mission Point’s lakefront Great Lawn. After wandering on a trail or two, kayak with Great Turtle Kayak Tours, re-center your mind with an on-the-water yoga experience and visit the Lakeside Salon & Spa for a calming lilac facial and body treatment.