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The Health Benefits of Shinrin-Yoku

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There’s a reason women are willing to fork over a hefty amount of their paycheck for a day at the spa. The payoffs—uninterrupted zen, luxurious pampering—are worth the price. But what if we told you that you could indulge closer to home—and for way less money?

Don’t worry, we’re not hawking some new miracle treatment. This new wellness trend is cheap, accessible, and totally safe. It’s called forest bathing, and all you have to do is immerse yourself in the healing environment of the woods. Think of it the same way as we use the term ‘sunbathing’ at the beach.

In Japan, where the practice originated, forest bathing is known as Shinrin-yoku—slowly immersing yourself deep into the forest and remaining silent but mindful. And while this may be the first time you've heard of forest bathing, master herbalist and foraging expert Nathaniel Whitmore, of The Lodge at Woodloch in Pennsylvania, explains that Shinrin-yoku was formally recognized in Japan in 1982 as a way to counter stress and fight degenerative illnesses such as heart disease. (Hey, when even Procrastination Could Lead to Heart Disease, it never hurts to be proactive in preventing it.)

But does it work? Concrete benefits of forest bathing are still being researched, but a study by Japan's Nippon Medical School and Chiba University explains that trees emit organic compounds called phytoncides, which may have a profound impact on your immune system markers long after a forest bathing session. More positive effects could include lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels.

This, of course, makes sense. Spending time in any well-maintained green space improves the likelihood of social cohesion as well as mental clarity and well-being, says Julia Africa, program leader for the Nature, Health, and the Built Environment Program at the Harvard School of Public Health. Current research also shows that simply being in green spaces de-stresses us and can boost mood. If you’re up to take an actual forest bath, it’s not hard to do. According to M. Amos Clifford 's comprehensive guidebook, A Little Handbook of Shinrin-Yoku, all you need to do is find a forest or a park with some trees and wander around enjoying “sensory experiences—like the view of a stream, the sounds of birds, the changing aromas as you move along the trail, the texture and tastes of the air you are breathing, and the many patterns and forms of the world around you." Clifford suggests two-hour sessions. 

For those who want a more luxurious experience, many hotels across the country curate special daily programs. With the help of local experts—who have gone through formal Shinrin-yoku training—these resorts offer guided hikes and silent meditation walks so you make sure you’re “bathing” correctly (!). They’ve also got killer views and post-hike spa treatments (that use natural ingredients found in the forests), to boot. Now that’s worth shelling out for. Below, a few to get your forest-bathing bucket list started.

Blackberry Farm
This getaway sits atop a hillside overlooking the peaceful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Their groundbreaking, Deep Healing Woods program was one of the first programs of its kind in U.S., and remains one of the best. Ninety-minute Shinrin-Yoku-inspired activities include an Earthfit Endurance Hike, Deep Healing Woods Yoga, Deep Healing Woods Meditation, and the Earthfit Forest Run—and all of them are tailored to provide the psychological and physiological benefits of forest bathing. The farm also offers spa treatments that use foraged woodland ingredients, and cozy, overnight cottage accommodations.

The Lodge at Woodloch
A spa resort about two and a half hours outside of New York City, in northeastern Pennsylvania, the Lodge offers an astounding amount of activites, and, depending on which package you choose, spa treatments and meals are included with your stay. The Lodge has a master herbalist on staff, Nathaniel Whitmore, who leads daily, mindful walks around the 150 acres of the private, wooded land, where he teaches deep breathing techniques to the attendees and encourages walkers to focus on mind and body awareness.

Big Cedar Lodge
This resort certainly lives up to its name by offering its guests over 800 accessible, forested acres in the Missouri Ozarks. To meet the demands for Shinrin Yoku, the lodge leads organized trail walks daily. Visitors are treated to stunning views of Table Top Lake, a magnificent four-story vertical waterfall, and the vast Lost Canyon Cave. The lodge has also partnered with the nearby nature park Dogwood Canyon to offer horseback riding excursions far into the woodlands. And the recently opened Cedar Creek Spa brings nature indoors with potted Aspen trees lining the hallways, and a unique, therapeutic water treatment that replicates a gentle Ozarks rainfall.

L'Auberge de Sedona Resort & Spa
L'Auberge de Sedona Resort & Spa just introduced a new Forest Bathing program through Coconino National Forest and the enchanting Red Rocks of Sedona. Guests will be led by in-house, certified forest bathing experts on a gentle, guided walk along the property, an experience that promises to be a true immersion into the naturally healing environment. All of the guest rooms at L'Auberge have private balconies and are equipped with outdoor, open-roof cedar showers that allow guests to enjoy a comforting warm water sensation combined with cool outdoor breezes, and topped with starry night or sunny day view above. (Who doesn't love the sound of an splurge-y spa vacay? Check out the Luxury Fitness Services We Wish We Could Afford—and One We Can.)

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