BEMIDJI, Minn. — During times of quarantine and stay-at-home orders, we could all use a little forest bathing in our lives.

Just don’t be fooled by the name. This isn’t your typical bath.

Developed in Japan in the 1980s, shinrin-yoku — or forest bathing — is a wellness activity that encourages practitioners to utilize each of their five senses while in a forest atmosphere.

Big Bog Lake appears almost completely unfrozen during a visit to Lake Bemidji State Park in late April. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)
Big Bog Lake appears almost completely unfrozen during a visit to Lake Bemidji State Park in late April. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)

This could include smelling the sweet scent of freshly wet soil after a long-awaited rain; listening to the knock of a woodpecker, echoing through a forest; or, simply enjoying the taste of a snack while resting on the stump of a fallen tree.

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And in return, practitioners can reap the rewards of nature.

While proven to alleviate stress and anxiety, forest bathing has been found to potentially improve one’s overall health by reducing blood pressure, lowering cortisol levels and improving concentration and memory.

Forests of soaring pines can be found throughout Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)
Forests of soaring pines can be found throughout Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)

On top of these benefits, a walk through nature exposes individuals to aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides, which have been found to support the immune system in protecting against infections, inflammation and cancer.

According to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% in an enclosed vehicle.

For many, that means just 7% of their waking lives are spent outdoors.

Luckily for Minnesotans, just over a third of the state’s land area is classified as forest land. And with 67 state parks, three forest biomes and four ecosystems, the state boasts an abundance of opportunities for forest bathers to get out and bask in the advantages of nature.

A nearly fallen tree creates an archway over a trail in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)
A nearly fallen tree creates an archway over a trail in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)

Getting out there

The first thing to remember about forest bathing is it is not to be confused with exercise or hiking. However, the practice is suitable for any level of fitness.

Your purpose is to walk slowly and aimlessly, taking in your surroundings with each sense. Run your hands through leaves, breathe in the fresh air, dip your feet into a lake, and appreciate the feeling of wind and sunlight on your face.

It’s important to set aside a few hours of your day so as to not feel rushed. Technology — such as a phone or camera — disturbs the process, so leave them untouched and turned off.

A spotted fungus grows from a tree covered in lichen in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)
A spotted fungus grows from a tree covered in lichen in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)

At the heart of forest bathing is comfort and relaxation, so dress appropriately and bring snacks. If you have mobility issues, don’t feel pressured to do more than your body will allow. There is no finish line. The activity is solely based on developing your relationship with nature.

Forest bathing can be done with or without a guide. For beginners, a trained forest therapist can help individuals become comfortable with the activity and find an ideal setting. Some Minnesota parks and nature centers offer forest bathing as part of their scheduled programming.

Moss overtakes a fallen tree along a trail in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)
Moss overtakes a fallen tree along a trail in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Bria Barton | Bemidji Pioneer)

Where to forest bathe in Minnesota

According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, some of the best spots to forest bathe include:

  • Chippewa National Forest
  • Interstate State Park

  • Glendalough State Park

  • Forestville State Park

  • Buffalo River State Park