I listen to NPR nearly every morning, and on Saturdays that means Living on Earth, at least on my local station. This Saturday I tuned in partway through a segment on “forest bathing,” also known as Shinrin-Yoku. As the host, Steve Curwood, describes it, forest bathing is a practice popular in Japan and China “in which practitioners spend meditative time breathing in nature.” The interviewee, Moshe Sherman, throws out several red flags typical of the evidence-challenged alternative medicine crowd, but he also makes some pretty specific health claims that he says are backed up by empirical evidence.
I’m going to argue that a lot of this is baloney. I want to be clear up front, though, that I’m not saying that walking in the woods and meditating in nature aren’t good for you. What I am saying is that the evidence that there’s something special about Shinrin-Yoku, something that provides benefits beyond those of exercise and relaxation, is lousy.