While forest bathing has become a common practice in Japan, it's only just beginning to catch on in the United States. Leslie Gernon, 58, who founded a shinrin-yoku group in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2012, admits that some people might consider the walks a silly New Age trend. "Before I started leading monthly sessions, I thought, Who'd want to come together to walk in silence?" she says. "But people need a break from what consumes them. And nature trails are a good place to do that because you also have to watch your step, which keeps you present in the moment."

Veteran wilderness guide Amos Clifford, who leads the walks that stressed-out Rebecca Valentine attends in California, knows just how healing shinrin-yoku can be: His blood pressure has dropped 10 points since he began forest bathing. "What we do doesn't seem in any way extraordinary, but the effects are astonishing," he says. For Valentine, the walks have become a sanity saver: "There are some great residual benefits. I won't say everything's fabulous, but when I leave the trail, I feel calmer, more reflective and refreshed. I feel like I'm taking care of myself in a way that has a lasting impact."


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