From trail runs to weekend backpacking trips, forests have always helped me unwind and find grounding. Yet it took a four-day trip to Ecuador’s sliver of the Amazon rainforest for me to fully appreciate one of the wellness industry’s most beloved alfresco experiences: forest bathing.
The concept is simple. “It involves slowing down, noticing your surroundings and taking time to explore the woodland around you,” says Philippa Bassett, communications manager for The Forest Bathing Institute, a global organization that offers events and trainings centered on the practice. It’s different than a hike or run, which focuses on exercise, Bassett says. “Forest bathing encourages full engagement with all five senses to enhance the experience and bring about a mindful state.”
The Amazon rainforest, I learned, is the perfect venue for it. Thick flora keeps most wildlife hidden. Instead of seeing the world through my camera’s lens, I paused, listened, smelled and watched my surroundings for subtle movements that could hint at camouflaged fauna. Jarol Fernando Vaca, an Ecuadorian scientist and my guide at rain-forest escape Sacha Lodge, shared his decades’ worth of wisdom about the forest’s language, and its health benefits, throughout my trip.
“Go slow and nature will open itself up to you, layer by layer,” he told me one afternoon as we watched river otters hunt fish off the lodge’s alfresco dining room. “Once we’re disconnected and listening to the forest and the animals, it just brings a sense of peace.”
I relished this tranquility earlier that morning on a sunrise climb up Kapok Tower. At this Sacha Lodge staple, a canopy-high observation deck allows guests to sit and appreciate the panorama. Vaca led an informal forest-bathing experience there among the treetops. We traded talking and questions for silence and awe as we listened to avian orchestras that changed tunes by the minute.
Despite four days of predawn wake-up calls and late nights studying the Amazon’s nocturnal inhabitants, I left Sacha Lodge calmer than I’d felt in months. Science proves this was no placebo.
Forest canopies emit phytoncides, which are known to “stimulate a soothing and calming effect on the body,” says Bassett. In Japan, where researchers have studied the practice’s health benefits for more than 40 years, doctors even prescribe forest bathing as a treatment for stress and anxiety.
The practice there is known as shinrin-yoku. It involves ditching technology and standing or sitting still in a woodland, where the forest bather calls upon all five senses to be one with the natural surroundings. Perhaps the hardest part is slowing down. “We want to be in a hurry all the time,” Vaca says. “It brings us back to our beginnings and roots. It’s a deep connection with nature and yourself.”
To experience forest bathing’s most powerful effects, Bassett says you’ll need at least two hours. She notes that any woodland environment will do, but ancient woodlands and forests, such as the 10-million-year-old Amazon rainforest, are particularly beneficial. “Within these environments, the flora and fauna are more diverse.”
Places to Try Forest Bathing
The Forest Bathing Institute runs guided events and training sessions in ancient woodlands across the U.K. At properties such as Sacha Lodge, outside Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, the forest is at your doorstep. Private balconies with handwoven hammocks provide ample nature-bathing opportunities during downtime between rain-forest strolls, canopy climbs and river paddles. To enjoy forest bathing in Japan, where this practice originated, try Sankara Hotel & Spa. The luxury getaway lies on Japan’s far-flung Yakushima Island, where an ancient rain forest and orchard put meditative nature experiences within arm’s reach. The indulgent guest rooms overlook the treetops and distant sea. The property’s Sankara Suite even comes with a spa room and an outdoor tub to take the forest-bathing experience up a notch.
Admire Italy’s saw-toothed Dolomites on a nature-bathing trip to Forestis, an Italian mountain-flanked retreat that sits 5,900 feet above sea level. The property was designed to immerse guests in the alpine flora. From sweeping windows and private decks, the forested surroundings beckon. While guests have a host of outdoor adventure options—paragliding, rafting and e-biking—they can also find tranquility on guided forest-bathing hikes in Northern Italy’s wild Dolomites region.
Try nature bathing without leaving the U.S. at the adults-only Green O, a sprinkling of 12 inspired houses in Western Montana’s pristine Blackfoot River Valley. The Green O’s minimalist houses seamlessly blend with the dense, pine-dotted environment. Guests can unwind on secluded woodland trails across the massive 37,000-acre property, or take in the sights and sounds of Montana’s untamed nature via private decks and hot tubs.