Forests have been imbued with magical and spiritual powers in folklore and fairy tales for centuries. But it is their therapeutic properties that have has captivated modern scientists. In Japan, Shinrin-yoku, or forest bath – defined as spending time among trees – has been considered a form of preventative medicine since the 1980s, when researchers in Nagano found that the practice reduced stress, boosted immunity, and lowered blood pressure. arterial. Subsequent studies have shown that imbibing the forest environment – the calm atmosphere, the lush green landscape, the slight crackle of twigs underfoot – reduces cortisol (the body’s main stress hormone) and activates the nervous system. parasympathetic (self-healing). These discoveries opened the path to other holistic disciplines, including current forest medicine (the study of how woodlands improve health) and ecotherapy (which considers the curative potential of natural environments).
Over the past decade, shinrin-yoku has also become a well-established ritual among wellness enthusiasts in the West, and from Baja California to the Berkshires, guided walks in the woods are now offered by rustic outfitters and upscale spas. Qing Li, president of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine in Tokyo and author of “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness” (2018), says incorporating the practice into one’s routine is not that complicated – there are no grueling movements to memorize, cloudy tinctures to ingest or mental gymnastics to master – that’s part of the appeal. Instead, it is simply a matter of “connecting with nature through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.” But it is the fresh, clean forest air that is perhaps the most powerful. Inhaling phytoncides, the aromatic oils released by trees, can increase the number of natural killer cells in the body (a type of white blood cell critical to the immune system that can limit the spread of microbial infections and tumors).
To reap the best possible results, Li prescribes a three-day trip to the woods once a month or a six-hour day trip once a week. But getting into nature – even for a few hours, let alone days at a time – can be difficult for those of us with demanding schedules. Fortunately, for particularly busy times, there is a decent substitute: in recent years, a wave of new wellness options which aim to simulate the calming effect of large spaces has emerged. Nue Co.’s Forest Lungs fragrance ($ 95), for example, mimics the molecular compounds of tree phytoncides, with the goal of producing a psychologically calming response. The scent itself is a crisp green blend of cedarwood, pine, and vetiver. London perfumer Maya Njie’s Nordic Cedar scent (around $ 125), meanwhile, evokes the forests of Sweden, where she grew up, with earthy amber, cedarwood, and tangy cardamom. It smells of log cabins and sprigs of greenery after a thunderstorm. Or consider Kate McLeod’s Grounding Stone ($ 38), a solid oval hydrating bar that, when warmed in the palms and stroked over the body, nourishes the skin and leaves aromas of mossy vetiver and sweet bergamot.
You could also try infusing your home, not just your person, with woody scents: Portland Sitka # 3 Aromatic Cleaner ($ 20), designed to wipe down surfaces, is enriched with antimicrobial spruce and deodorant juniper, and the laundress x The sweetness of aromatherapy associates Deep Relax detergent ($ 45) will scent sheets and bedding with vetiver and sandalwood. For a more complete approach, simply put a few drops of Made by Design Balsam Fir Essential Oil ($ 18 for set) in a diffuser, or light DS & Durga’s Big Sur After Rain Candle ($ 65) for a smell of the Californian forest covered with notes of humidity eucalyptus and magnolia.
A bath offers a more immersive and prickly experience: try a bath infused with Amayori’s Hinoki Onsen Camellia Japonica Scented Bath Oil ($ 80), which combines hinoki cypress extracts with jasmine. Or follow the example of Author and facialist born in Japan and based in Los Angeles Joomee Song, who recreates shinrin-yoku by submerging a bag of Tosaryu Hinoki flavor flakes ($ 8), from hinoki trees in Kochi Prefecture in Japan, in its bathtub (after bathing, hang the bag to dry and reuse it another time). The ritual takes her back to the years she spent walking Mount Takatori with her father as part of their family’s weekly forest bathing tradition. “We climbed dirt roads for hours and prayed in a mountain top shrine,” she says. “It was always just a magical experience in every way.”
The scent is only part of the magic, however, notes Li, which also recommends stimulating your other senses: listen to birdsong, drink herbal teas, and bring plants, potted trees, and wooden objects into your living space. (Song prefers cypress wood stools and bowls.) These gestures work in harmony to create a cumulative calming effect while forming, as Li puts it, “a bridge between us and the natural world.”