Forest bathing, aka nature therapy or “ecotherapy,“ is the activity of going into a natural setting, such as a forest, and taking a moment to live in the present by immersing oneself in nature. Translated from the Japanese term “shinrin-yoku,” forest bathing seems to describe what many Ohioans have done for years.
Columbus resident Kate Rondinelli used the technique to get through a bad relationship while living alone in Toledo. Rondinelli hasn’t recently practiced forest bathing, but she used to visit a trail by her house for hours on end, leaving her cellphone and other devices behind to absorb nature.
“Sitting and listening to the wind blow through the tops of the trees and bushes is so relaxing to me,” Rondinelli said in a message. “There was this nice little stream I’d sit by and close my eyes and listen to water hit the rocks, and sometimes I’d stare at the water for an hour or two and just watch it move over the rocks.”
Rondinelli explained she has severe anxiety and breathing issues, but sitting in nature helps alleviate her symptoms. “Usually when I’d get done, I felt very light, and my breathing was relaxed and I felt at ease … Soul-searching kind of stuff.”
Eric LeMay, an associate professor of English at Ohio University, recently implemented the practice of forest bathing into some of his Fall Semester English classes. When the pandemic hit and the world transitioned online, LeMay thought that introducing forest bathing to his classes would be a restorative activity.
“I didn’t want to be like, ‘This is gonna be good for you, you have to do it,’” LeMay said, explaining how he introduced the concept to his classes. “Instead, I proposed it as a hypothesis, like, go out and see what happens, see if this stuff is true. And it seemed like a kind of fruitful way to investigate the ecological crisis that’s taking place … on the west coast.”
LeMay thought it was important for students to experience forest bathing, then reflect on the activity. This gave them a direct, first-person experience with the environment; to think about nature preservation and how deeply nature impacts people.
According to LeMay, around 90% of his students appreciated the one hour of forest bathing and got something positive out of it.
What LeMay liked about forest bathing is that he discovered the concept before he knew what to call it. He consistently tried to get into nature as much as he could, even when he lived in Manhattan, New York. He recognized early on that the more he was in nature, the better he felt — which was important for him, because he put his work first, as an academic.
When he began the forest bathing unit, LeMay first introduced to his class the Japanese term “komorebi:” how sunlight looks when it is filtered through tree leaves. Just like English doesn’t offer a distinct word for that experience, many people have been practicing forest bathing for years without ever being introduced to the concept.
Jessica Jones, a 2020 OU graduate who is self-employed, has practiced forest bathing her whole life. Before ever reading about the concept, Jones loved escaping into the woods near her home or riding her bike on nature trails.
“Being outside helps me feel connected to nature and the earth,” Jones said in an email. “I practice other spiritual ideas as well, and they go hand-in-hand with nature, so it’s all connected. There’s nothing like finding a nice spot in the grass in the middle of the forest and sitting down, closing your eyes and taking in all the sounds and smells of the forest.”
Jones aims to practice forest bathing at least once a week, where she can find time to re-center her emotions, reflect and appreciate the smaller things in life.
“I don’t think you need anything special or even have to have some type of ritual, even,” Jones said in an email. “Even just taking a simple walk around your neighborhood will suffice. As long as you’re outside, I think that’s all that matters. Try looking up directions to a nearby park or some hiking trails, and start there.”