The Japanese word shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing,” is a term the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined in 1982.
At the time, the Japanese government – recognizing public health was declining as its society was undergoing a technological transformation – began studying why nature makes people healthier.
The benefits to both physical and mental health, it was found, were manifold, and today, shinrin-yoku therapy is covered by Japanese health insurance as a preventative health measure.
Maria Best, a Salinas native, first encountered the concept when she picked up a book at the Carmel library, “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness,” by Dr. Qing Li, a Japanese medical doctor considered the world’s expert in forest medicine.
“All of a sudden I had this revelation,” Best says. Newly obsessed, she set out to become a certified forest therapy guide, but the training workshops – in far-flung, often exotic locales – were too cost-prohibitive. But then Covid hit and all those classes moved online, and she jumped at the opportunity.
Best completed her certification this past summer, and this week, on behalf of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce, she’s guiding a free forest bathing outing at Toro Park.
“The way I guide is very invitational – there’s no wrong and right way,” Best says, who makes clear attendees will not be physically exerting themselves – they’ll be relaxing in a peaceful place. And while Best acknowledges the term “forest bathing” might strike some people as strange, she says, “it’s not woo-woo. It’s just nature.” [DS]