Inside The New York Botanical Garden


Bathing Among the Trees

Posted in From the Library on September 27 2018, by Esther Jackson

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.

Shinrin-yokuShinrin-yoku, “forest bathing” in English, is definitely having a moment. Shinrin-Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing is a new book on the discipline written by Yoshifumi Miyazaki for Timber Press. Miyazaki, a university professor, researcher, and the deputy director of Chiba University’s Centre for Environment, Health and Field Sciences, has researched forest bathing since 1990, and has published several books on the effects and benefits of forest therapy.

The term shinrin-yoku was coined in 1982 and refers to the practice of walking through the woods and experiencing nature. Specifically, practitioners enjoy nature at a leisurely pace, “bathing” in the natural environment and benefiting from lowered stress levels and a heightened sense of well-being. Japanese researchers have been measuring the positive effects of shinrin-yoku for decades, attempting to quantify both chemicals and perceptions—a difficult task. (For more information about the research surrounding shinrin-yoku, see Amitah Kalaichandran’s recent article from The New York Times.)

For those who are interested in giving shinrin-yoku a try, Miyazaki’s book is an excellent introduction. Chapter titles include “The Concept of Nature Therapy,” “Japan’s Relationship with Nature,” “The Practice of Shinrin-yoku,” “Bringing the Forest Closer to Home,” “The Science Behind Nature Therapy,” and “The Future of Forest Therapy Research.” NYBG also offers classes for those who would prefer a more hands-on instruction.

See also: NYBG volunteer Jeanne Lapsker’s Plant Talk blog on shinrin-yoku from 2015 and my Forest Bathing book review from earlier this year.

Shinrin-yoku: Forest Healing

Posted in Learning Experiences on February 2 2015, by Jeanne Lapsker

Jeanne Lapsker is a Forest volunteer at NYBG.

Thain Family ForestThe leaves of the old rhododendron shrubs hang straight and stiff outside my window—the surest indicator of freezing temperatures. I dress in layers and head out to the forest in NYBG.

In the late 1800s Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” Recently a friend posted an article about shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, a term coined in Japan in 1982 that sparked my interest.

Shinrin-yoku was inspired by the ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices of letting nature enter the body through all five senses. For several decades now Japanese researchers have been studying the psychological and physiological effects of leisurely walking in the woods and breathing in the scent of old trees. They found correlations with stress and blood pressure reduction, improved mood, increased energy, improved sleep, increased concentration, and increases in the body’s immune cells. Now there are forty-eight designated forest therapy trails in Japan and shinrin-yoku is an accepted form of preventative medicine there. It is estimated that an astounding one quarter of the Japanese population use these forest trails. With increasing urbanization and use of technology, other countries around the world are investigating the potential health benefits of spending time in nature.

What we have long believed intuitively to be true regarding the benefits of spending time among the trees may in fact be linked to biological and chemical changes in our bodies. In the meantime, as I walk these paths in the Thain Family Forest, I smile to think that in other native forests under different native trees, others are walking paths, different yet similar, and experiencing a comparable sense of peace.