This year, I spent a lot of time thinking about forest bathing.
It started over the summer, when I was sunbathing next to a lake and listening to NPR — because that’s the kind of person I am, I guess — when Alison Aubrey started telling me about this thing called forest bathing.
It turns out taking a walk in the woods is actually “forest bathing,” a meditative practice that has myriad health benefits. In Japan, it was dubbed shirin-yoku in the 1990s, and more recently it’s become popular in the U.S. as a cure for work-related stress.
It’s really taken off! The U.S. Associations of Nature & Forest Therapy trains 250 forest bathing guides every year, because walking in the woods can be hard! There are many studies that say the practice boosts your immunity and mood.
First of all, it’s lit that I’ve been unknowingly absorbing the health benefits of the forest my whole life. But the United States has lost millions of acres of forest to climate change–fueled wildfires this year, and Los Angeles — possibly the one place on Earth most in need of stress-relief — is currently battling its first wintertime megafire ever. Those trees might not grow back. And, according to the World Resources Institute, more than 80 percent of Earth’s forests have already been destroyed. AND, humans cut down around 15 billion trees each year.
This is undoubtedly bad news for trees, but also for humans. What happens when there’s no more forest to bathe in? Only the rich get to enjoy the few forests we have left? Wait, that might already be happening. Merry Christmas!
Zoya Teirstein is an editorial assistant at Grist.