Forest Bathing: A walk in nature—it’s good for you

“I’d always felt comfortable in the woods. At that moment, I felt so much more. I felt I was a part of this forest. I was not there to learn the names of the flora and fauna surrounding us. I did not look forward to a lecture. And, so Doug’s guiding words, all of which were brief and meaningful, did not intrude—but allowed for the peacefulness of the experience. At the end of the path, fittingly near a place in the creek where the water formed a wide and quiet pool and the sunlight streamed through the leaves, we sat together enjoying tea and conversation. It was a memorable moment.” –Bett

Doug Jones, Ph.D., is available to provide expert guidance. A recently retired psychologist and native Michigander, Doug lives in Pittsburgh and has been leading walks in many of the area’s beautiful parks and at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. He is certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT). Doug and his wife Beverly also spend time in their Leelanau County home and have explored the area’s numerous parks and trails for more than 20 years. He is looking forward to leading walks throughout Leelanau County’s many scenic trails. 

The concept of Forest Bathing may be new to you, but, like Doug, you may be able to remember the feeling of time spent in the woods and gardens of your childhood. Doug’s love of the forest, coupled with his lifetime of wild tending and vacationing in the woods and lakes of northern Michigan, and his background as a psychotherapist have prepared him well for his role as a guide.

If the idea of putting the words “forest” and “bathing” together is new to you, know that the modern practice of healing by spending relaxed time in the woods came into its own during Japan’s technology boom in the 1980s. Many Japanese worked in front of computers for many hours each day and were becoming seriously ill. In response to this, the Japanese prescribed the practice of taking slow walks in Japan’s numerous forests and green spaces. They called this practice Shinrin-yoku. The country followed with scientific studies that showed that Shinrin-yoku offered real health benefits including reduced stress, improved mental clarity, and boosted immune function.

Dr. Qing Li, one of the world’s leading experts on the health benefits of natural environments and one of the fathers of Shinrin-yoku, puts it this way, “We are ‘hard-wired’ to affiliate with the natural world, and just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are disconnected from it.” (Shinrin-yoku: The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing. 2018) 

So, what are the possible pathways from nature to this healthy human response? Here are some examples, first focusing on attention, stress, and vision:

Stress Reduction Theory explains that being in unthreatening natural spaces, or even just viewing natural elements, immediately activates a positive emotional response, and decreases blood pressure and heart rate, indicators central to the stress response. Sustained pleasant attention is also evoked, blocking negative thoughts and emotions. The visual complexity, noise, intensity and movement of urban environments, on the contrary, produce stressed physiological and psychological effects.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART) describes the beneficial kind of attention evoked by nature. It refers to the effortless attention or “soft fascination” we experience in relation to natural scenes and beings, such as lazily gazing at the lake. ART suggests this is a restorative experience countering the adverse effects of the prolonged “directed attention” we experience in relation to our urban, occupational and electronically plugged-in lives. Prolonged directed attention leads to “attention fatigue,” reduced ability to perform cognitive tasks, and increased levels of mental fatigue. “Soft fascination” counters these adverse effects.

Moving directly to the level of how our eyes work, researchers have found that patterns found in “nature’s roughness” such as snowflakes, plant leaves, tree branches, river systems, coastlines, raindrops on water, etc., are in harmony with how our eyes and brain scan scenes. Complex scenes, such as busy urban streets, can lead to discomfort, whether conscious or unconscious. These researchers assert that our visual system is hard-wired to understand patterns that are found throughout nature, and viewing natural patterns leads to fluent visual processing which is a stress reducer.

Another of the many, many pathways from nature to health and well-being is not visual or even related to attention and stress at all. This pathway takes the natural volatile compounds (VOCs) emitted by trees and relates them directly to the human immune system. VOCs, also known as phytoncides, are emitted by trees as protection from threats such as insects, fungi, and bacteria. Think of pine or cedar scents to understand what phytoncides are. When we breathe certain phytoncides, cells in our own immune system — that is, NK, or natural killer cells that fight tumors and viruses — significantly increase in number and activity level. In addition, these increases are sustained for long beyond initial exposure to the VOCs.

In 2012, inspired by Shinrin-yoku and troubled by our disconnection from nature, the ANFT developed a uniquely American approach to Forest Bathing. Doug brings his background and training to his guided walks. A Forest Bathing walk consists of one to 15 participants. With Doug’s guidance, you wander along trails in the Good Harbor Bay/Little Traverse Lake area, stopping every so often for invitations designed to maximize being present and deepen your connection with nature. Participants are invited to pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes of the forest. It’s not about doing anything strenuous or getting your heart rate up. The point is to slow down and fully experience what the forest has to offer in your own individual way.

Along the way, you may discover that you are really drawn to the sounds of a brook, and are delighted in touching and admiring the brilliant green moss along the trees and the forest floor. Just being may leave you relaxed and rejuvenated — a rare experience during our busy lives — and like many, you may feel full of gratitude for nature’s plethora of restorative natural spaces. Maybe the best thing about Forest Bathing is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just come as you are.

Considering that the average American spends 93% of their time indoors, time in nature is even more vital to our efforts to slow down, be more present, and unplug from technology.

Here is what some previous participants have to say about Doug’s Forest Bathing walks:

“A Forest Bathing session guided by Dr. Jones can be that life-altering experience that helps you reset, re-center yourself, rediscover how proximate we are to Nature and to ourselves, if we just take the time to cultivate this connection.” –Monica

“Being present with all of your senses in the forest, with the informative guidance, gentle invitations, and caring welcome offered by Doug, is a wonderful experience. It made me remember, appreciate, and reconnect with the beauty and possibilities of slowing down and just being, feeling, and experiencing the wonders of nature.” –Gail

“This was a wonderfully immersive experience that revealed layers of nature.” –Karen

For Doug’s postings and to register for a walk with him, visit and search for “Doug” or “Traverse City.” For more information about Forest Bathing check-out