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Forest Bathing

Combining Rewilding with Forest Bathing

Rewilding is the latest trend in conservation and a topic that has attracted both mainstream and academic attention, with everyone from small community groups to major government organizations supporting the idea.

Rewilding involves taking a more hands-off approach to nature and conservation, primarily reintroducing predators to the environment and allowing them to control the population of prey, consequently allowing for a change in the landscape around them. 1

Though this initiative is often accomplished on a large scale, such as reintroducing wolves to the Grand Canyon, it can also be done on a much smaller scale. An example of this would be letting your garden become a little less tame, so that it becomes a nicer place for birds, bees, and worms to live. Both types of project have value for improving biodiversity and they can be good for your wellbeing too.

Link Between Rewilding and Well-Being rewilding forest bathing

Rewilding on a more community-focused or personal level can improve your wellbeing in several ways. For instance, simply being around nature instead of sat in front of a computer screen can be relaxing. In addition, rewilding is closely liked with the practice of forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku, a practice which began in Japan but is beginning to spread around the world.

The permaculture and ecopsychology communities have come to see the benefits of forest bathing as a way of reducing stress and improving both physical and mental wellbeing. 2

Shinrin-yoku means "taking in the forest atmosphere" in Japanese. The therapy was developed in the 1980s and is an important form of preventative healthcare in Japan. It has since spread to other parts of the world, and in the West, there are some groups that combine the ideas of rewilding with the ideas of forest bathing, putting an emphasis on reciprocity and stewardship of the forests so that people don't just spend time in them, they also come to appreciate them. 3

Appreciate the Outdoors

It's clear that individuals in modern society need to spend more time outdoors. According to a survey conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, Americans spend 87 percent of their time indoors and another 6 percent of their time inside a vehicle. 4 You may have air conditioning to circulate air, but that’s no substitute for proper fresh air.

Additionally, it is generally accepted that sitting still in front of a computer isn't good for you and that people who spend more time outdoors are usually healthier. 5 , 6 The amount of time that humans spend cooped up indoors is a problem that could turn into a public health crisis. Forest bathing and human rewilding could well be an answer to it.

Studies show that forest bathing can have wide-ranging effects on wellbeing. Those who spend more time in forests show decreased levels of hostility, stress, and anxiety, as well as lower levels of cortisol, blood pressure, and pulse rates compared to those who spend more time in cities. 7 , 8 It's for this reason that forest bathing is not just a hyped up activity for nature-lovers but a recognized therapy in Japan and China. 9

How Forest Bathing Works rewilding forest bathing

There are many potential reasons that forest bathing works. A part of it could simply be the exposure to fresh air and relaxing sounds, such as those of running water, insects and animals. 10 A part of it could also be the exposure to terpenes.

Supporters of forest bathing joke that in the Western world, there is something known as "nature deficit disorder," which is really a pretty accurate portrayal. 11 Most individuals spend very little time outdoors, which means that children and adults alike are missing out on fresh air, positive and relaxing environments, and the chance to move and play more freely.

When people spend time in the forest, they are exposed to the scents of plants, which can be relaxing and invigorating. Additionally, these plants contain terpenes, organic compounds which are produced by plants and that give plants their distinctive scents.

Plants use terpenes as a survival mechanism, to communicate, to deter predators, and to attract insects that can help pollinate them. The human immune system responds to terpenes just like the immune systems of other animals. Researchers have studied the effects of some of those terpenes, especially in their essential oils forms, and have found that they provide a range of health benefits, including maintaining healthy immune system function, promoting relaxation, and improving sleep quality. 12

How to Go Forest Bathing

If you want to try forest bathing for yourself, all you need is some time and a nearby forest. Some tips for getting the most out of your forest bathing experience are highlighted below.

rewilding forest bathing Pick a Good Time of Year to Go

The balance of terpenes in the air varies depending on the season. 13 The best time to go for maximum exposure is during the summer. Be sure to take lots of long walks when the weather is good, and if you're booking a winter getaway, try to squeeze a visit to a forest into your itinerary.

Take Long Walks

While any exposure to terpenes is good, going deeper into the forest will offer more benefits. It also helps if you can go out when it's a little wet. Don't put your safety at risk and go out during torrential downpours, but do enjoy that scent of fresh rain. Part of the reason that it smells so good is actually that it’s good for you.

Learn a New Skill

If you find that going out into the forests makes you feel great, then why not go a step further and try human rewilding? There is a growing movement of eco-activists that are looking for ways to become self-sufficient. While some of them have taken the idea to extremes and are living a completely nomadic lifestyle, there are others who are simply trying to be a little bit more cooperative with nature, which is something many people can benefit from. 14

Learning some basic survival skills and spending time in the forests offers the benefits of forest bathing and also the benefits of exercise. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise can help reduce stress and boost overall mood because exercise produces a number of positive physiological changes in the body. 15

The act of being out in nature and actively engaging with the world instead of sitting at a desk or in a car is a welcome break that can give you a chance to recharge psychologically.

Exposing Kids to Nature rewilding forest bathing

Whenever people talk about stress, anxiety, and physical or mental wellbeing, the first assumption is that the topic of discussion is adults. While that is often true, children can also benefit from spending more time outdoors and active play that involves nature.

To serve this purpose, The Wild Network has created a campaign to rewild childhood. 16

The campaign aims to address:

    • Being dependent on cars

    • Risk-averse attitude society has towards children's play

    • A limited amount of outdoor play time that children have today

    • Building communities around nature

    • Connecting children to nature

These are all issues that affect not just the short term health of children, but the attitudes that those children will have when they grow up to become adults. There is already research that suggests that children who are exposed to dirt and germs from a young age develop stronger and more healthy immune systems and are less likely to develop allergies. 17 A combination of forest bathing and rewilding could be exactly what is needed need to produce fit, healthy, and confident children for generations to come.


As two growing environmental initiatives, it only seems natural that rewilding and forest bathing go perfectly together. If you’ve been interested in either the rewilding or the forest bathing moment, try pairing them together to not only double the positive impact this creates on the environment but also the extra benefit this adds to your overall health and well-being.

Photo Credits: HQuality/, everst/, AnurakPONGPatimet/

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