How to go forest bathing

It's a good idea to turn off your phone.

You can go forest bathing at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain this spring. Stan Grossfeld / The Boston Globe

Do you feel like you need a break from your busy life?

Forest bathing is an ideal way to hit the reset button, according to Tam Willey, a certified forest therapy guide.

The Japanese practice of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, means to take in the forest atmosphere, Willey said. When you are forest bathing, you are “in a state of wonder and noticing,” Willey said, because the practice calls for mindfully opening up your senses.

“I think forest therapy is for everyone,” Willey said. “[It’s for] anybody who’s looking for deeper connections, anybody who just needs a time out from a chaotic, busy life, and needs to recharge.”


Willey, who hosts forest bathing excursions around Boston — including upcoming walks at the Arnold Arboretum —offered the following tips to get the most out of your experience.

Turn off your phone

It’s a good idea to turn off your phone when entering the forest, Willey said.

“The whole point of the practice is for it to be restful and restorative and supportive,” Willey said. “We’re trying to get into our bodies, and our phones keep us in our heads. Our phones dull our senses and what we’re trying to do is open up our senses.”

Take in your surroundings slowly, using all of your senses

Spend a concentrated amount of time paying attention to your senses, Willey said.

“Take a couple of minutes and turn around and just really soak it up,” Willey said. “What does this place look like, what does this place sound like, what does this place smell like, what does this place taste like? What does it feel like to be in our bodies? What does it feel like to just be here?”

Perhaps you find a comfortable place to sit or kick your shoes off, Willey said. There is no wrong way to do it.

Wander where your heart wants to go

Once you tune into your senses, it’s time to wander around. But forest bathing is not the same as hiking because it’s not about getting to a destination or exerting yourself, Willey said.


“Maybe a leaf blows in a certain way and you follow it,” Willey said. “Or maybe you see a hawk fly and you head in that direction. Or you just feel drawn to go to this stream that you hear babbling ahead. Just really allow yourself to go where your heart wants to go. You want to listen with your heart and move and speak with your heart and interact with the land in a caring, tender way.”

Perhaps you pause to build a fairy house, which is a structure built from twigs, Willey said. Or you make a design with leaves and acorns. Or you water a flower with water from your water bottle. Or you decide to pick up trash.

“It’s about, ‘How can I be in a relationship with the land?'” Willey said. “What does the land want from me? What can I offer?”

You should allow at least 20 minutes to wander, but can spend several hours doing it if you have the time, Willey said.

If you bring a friend, share your observations

Willey’s forest bathing walks involve “sharing circles,” where folks on the walk share what they see or feel.

“People will share anything from, ‘I noticed the way the sun was hitting the leaves and the leaves are blowing in the wind,’ to grief,” Willey said. “[Like someone saying,] ‘I’m feeling connected to someone who recently left the living world.”


When you are with companions, you want to focus less on conversation and more on observation, Willey said.

“You want to ask your friend, ‘What are you noticing?'” Willey said. “[And] when it’s your turn to answer what you are noticing, don’t think too hard, don’t get too intellectual. Just say the first thing that comes to your mind.”

By sharing your experiences, you are able to take in even more of the forest, Willey said.