Did you know that time spent in nature can benefit a stressed-out mental state? Numerous studies support the idea, and almost anyone who spends time in the outdoors will swear to it.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
Advocates point out that forest bathing may lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, boost the immune system, and improve feelings of wellbeing. By inhaling the phytoncide found in the forest air (essential oils emitted by trees ), the human immune system may be strengthened as well.
Where to Go In The Shenandoah Valley
Although organized forest bathing sessions are starting to catch on in some locations, in the Shenandoah Valley it’s still mostly a do-it-yourself exercise. Walking down a trail in Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Harper’s Ferry National Park area should expose you to an abundance of calming experiences—tumbling waterfalls, quiet trout streams, or deep, silent forests. George Washington and Jefferson National Forests offer an additional 1.8 million acres of protected lands to explore.
Forest Therapy: Find Your Health & Happiness
Forest bathing differs from traditional outdoor recreation in that it is far less structured. You don’t hike, pedal, paddle, or jog. You leave your cell phone and your camera in the car. You don’t need to have a destination or follow a route (other than not getting lost). The point is simply to immerse yourself in nature and connect with it. It has been likened to a bridge—a bridge between ourselves and nature. Tune your senses into the babble of a brook, the wind across a mountaintop, or sunlight glinting on a shadowy stream. Be still and focus on the sights, sounds, touches, and smells around you.
Japan has taken this idea a step farther with a practice called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. There is a natural area in Japan ( Iinan Furusato no Mori ) where “Forest Therapy Guides” provide visitors with physical and psychological health assessments and three tiers of walking plans — Slow Walking, Walking, and Plant Observation.
Shenandoah has about 100 species of trees – with oak and hickory as the most common. If you’d like to learn more about trees, the National Park Service has compiled a wonderful resource here.
Dr. Qing lI, author of Forest Bathing—How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, says, “You can forest-bathe anywhere in the world – wherever there are trees; in hot weather or in cold; in rain, sunshine or snow.”
Take The First Step
There is no one right way — simply start by walking into the woods, be attuned to your surroundings, and feel your worries ebb away amidst the sounds and smells of the forest. Forest bathing is best done away from the madding crowd, so try to visit more popular locations mid-week if possible.
To extend your encounter with nature, consider spending the night in a campground or perhaps rent a small cabin. A wide range of lodging options are available.