Body + Soul: A New Leaf

Forest bathing can be a simple, healthy antidote to tech saturation in our lives.

AMERICANS are outdoors less and less. A new Environmental Protection Agency study revealed that we spend 93 percent of our lives in a building or in a car. Yet physical and mental health may be waiting for us among the trees.

Forest bathing, aka “shinrin-yoku,” was first studied in 1983 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries as a potential way to address the country’s heart disease and depression rates. Their research found that spending as little as 10 minutes a day outside increased well-being. Other studies showed that being in a forested area lowers stress levels and blood pressure. Trees emit phytoncides, which are essentially airborne antibacterial oils. Breathing in forest air increases the level of infection-combating cells in our blood. Phytoncides also improve sleep and boost attention span and creativity.

Sometimes called forest therapy, the practice isn’t an exercise routine, and no, it doesn’t involve washing. At its most basic, it’s taking a walk in the woods.

“It’s slowing down so that our senses guide our experience. What we feel, see, smell, and hear keeps our focus on the now,” says Christy Knecht, an Association of Nature and Forest Therapy–certified forest bathing guide based in Huntington, Indiana. “At the end of a walk, I encourage the bathers to find a place to sit for 20 minutes. It’s opening our eyes, ears, and, eventually, our hearts to what the present moment has to offer.”

Jennifer Foley, owner of Balanced Soul in Broad Ripple, began offering guided forest bathing during the pandemic. “It was a safe way to rebuild human connection and to help establish a healing relationship with the natural world,” says Foley. Keep in mind, forest bathing isn’t one and done. Consistency is needed, but that’s true of any form of self-care, which is what Foley considers forest bathing to be. “It deepens mental relaxation and increases gratitude, selflessness, and wonder.”

Cleanse Your Mind

Ready to dip a toe into forest bathing? You needn’t go far. We have suggestions for three peaceful yet easily accessible locations in Indiana.

Located on the far north side of Eagle Creek, Eagle’s Crest Nature Preserve trail is less traveled than others and a heavily wooded example of a primitive forest. 7201 Fishback Rd.

Head down the Lawrence Creek Trail, a 4.2-mile loop that winds through upland woods and ravines. 6000 N. Post Rd.

Located within Shades State Park, this dedicated nature preserve was the first in Indiana and contains sandstone bluffs, hogback ridges, and species of pine rare to our state. 7751 S. 890 W, Waveland

The Nature Fix
($14.83) is a science-based guide to forest bathing.