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'Forest Bathers' Tout Health Benefits Of Immersion In Nature

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- For many people there is nothing more relaxing than a bath, but now some are turning to a new kind of bath.

It's one that has nothing to do with water, and it isn't just for relaxing, it also has significant health benefits.

As CBS2's Mary Calvi explained, it's called the 'forest bath.'

Led by Nina Smiley, of the Mohonk Mountain House in Ulster County, a group of first time forest bathers didn't seem to know what to expect.

"I don't know exactly what it is, but I am definitely looking forward to it," John D'Amico said.

"The term 'forest bathing' is very enticing, and you have to want to know what that is," Diane Magnani said.

It's a deep immersion into the forest.

"You begin to feel the mind calm down," Smiley said.

Throughout the 45 minute bath, participants practice being in the moment with nature.

"Whatever our hands are touching, simply noting that sensation," Smiley instructed, "Spend a moment looking at one leaf, each leaf is different."

Beyond nature's calming effect, there's another force at work. The trees actually emit oils called phykoncides that contain healing properties.

"As people walk through nature, they're picking up this opportunity to have part f the forest heal. It is quite powerful," Smiley said.

Just how powerful has been seen in Japan, where the practice has been popular for decades. Researchers there found forest bathing reduces heart rate, and blood pressure, and boosts the immune system.

"My sense is that it's growing exponentially," Amos Clifford said.

Clifford runs a group that trains forest bath guides.

"I anticipate medical referrals, physicians writing prescriptions for forest therapy, particularly for health maintenance," he said.

Others said that's a long way off.

"I think there needs to be more research and make sure that it does apply to the American population as well as the Japanese population," Dr. Homan Danesh said.

Whatever the long-term outlook, after their bath, participants felt immediate benefits.

"It's a virtual bubble bath of beautiful sensory things that allow you to feel that oneness with the environment," one bather said.

"I'm trying to remember the last time I felt this relaxed, it's a very special feeling, feel good," Jeffrey Weinberger added.

Proponents said mindfulness, plus nature make for a powerful combination.

According to the association of nature and forest therapy, there are 200 trained forest guides nationwide. They expect there to be 1,000 or so within the next two years.


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