Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is an idea that originally came from Japan about how natural places are beneficial to your health and well-being. Of course this idea is not solely Japanese, you may have even had this thought yourself. However, it may be that the Japanese were the first to give it a name and designate it an official therapeutic activity.
What’s the definition of forest bathing? Forest bathing, also called forest therapy, is simply spending time in nature with a quiet mind that allows you to experience your surroundings with all your senses. Take in the sights, smells and sounds.
Beware: Before you start petting the plants, it is smart to know which ones in your area are poisonous or irritating like stinging nettle and poison oak. Don’t touch those! 🙂
When many people think of hiking they imagine a sweaty workout. Peak bagging, getting cardio, and huffing and puffing. And of course hiking is good for that, but forest bathing is not about the destination, it’s the journey. Take your time and walk at a comfortable pace. You want to get your blood moving but it’s more about engaging your senses than breaking a sweat. Some Japanese Shinrin-yoku experts will have you push up a slope for half a minute then stop to catch your breath for a few seconds. Part of the therapy is the movement but that doesn’t mean you need to go for a run. If possible, take a longer distance hike rather than a faster one. Perhaps combine your walk with pauses to stretch or even to sit or lie down and meditate.
Part of the benefit of forest bathing is of course simply being in nature and getting some exercise which is always good for you. But the thing that makes shinrin-yoku special is that you’re paying attention. It’s a form of meditation. Your mind can relax by focusing on your senses rather than the constant buzz in your head and the need to jibber jabber all day long. It’s also a break from our electronics. This is how forest bathing can help with stress.
Walking meditations can be especially beneficial for those of us who have problems quieting our minds. It can be very helpful because you’re not just sitting there on a cushion in zazen where your mind can easily wander. You’re actually doing something but you allow yourself that quiet contemplation and focused yet relaxed attention on your surroundings.
Although the scientific studies had participants walking for several hours a day, you don’t need to forest bathe for hours at a time if that’s not possible for you. If you can escape your busy day for 15 to 30 minutes, it should do the trick. If you can find a place to take longer walks on the weekends that would be great.
Maybe there’s a small quiet park near your house or your office where you can go for a few minutes and observe nature. Perhaps you live in the midst of a busy city and a quiet place is not obvious nearby. However, even in most cities there’s a botanical garden or city park where you can find peace and and the sounds of nature. (here are some wonderful botanical gardens in Europe and the USA) In a busy city you might have to go early in the morning to have a quiet experience. Of course a trip to a state or national park or a remote wilderness area may be even more therapeutic. But a nice quiet local park is also beneficial. Let’s just say it’s better to go to that local park daily than to not go into nature at all.
If you’d like to try guided forest bathing you can check out the website of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Or check out these 9 spas where you can experience forest bathing and forest therapy activities while getting away from it all.
What do you think? Will you try to incorporate forest bathing into your life?
You might also like these nature therapy and forest bathing books:
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