“The forest responds the same way you call.”
Niin metsä vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan
– old Finnish proverb
When I first came across the concept of Shinrin-Yoku, an image of wandering around the forest naked and hungry for days, while covered in mud and eating tree bark, vividly flashed through my mind. You can certainly do that, but it is not necessary for the practice of Japanese forest bathing. Shinrin-Yoku simply means to “take in the forest atmosphere” or “bathe your senses in the forest”. The remedy of spending time in the forest is as old as mankind, but the Japanese have come up with a clever way of reminding us of this simple truth.
The idea of forest bathing originated in Japan in the early 1980’s, and is becoming an increasingly popular natural therapy. The sad truth is that majority of humans in the western world have become so alienated from nature that we now require a prescription for it. Forest bathing guides and organizations have started to appear around the world. Japanese doctors are prescribing forest bathing to urbanites in Tokyo and other big cities, to cope with stress and other related health issues. The need for forest bathing will only increase as our lives become more saturated with technology and urban growth.
HOW TO FOREST BATHE
The basic concept of Shinrin-Yoku is to relax and recharge in the forest, or any natural environment free of distraction, with no specific route or goal, and without any electronic devices. Forest bathing guides recommend at least 2 hrs of forest bathing at a time for maximum benefits. You allow yourself to wander aimlessly in the forest while engaging all the five senses; perhaps touching the soil, walking barefoot, breathing in deeply the smells of the forest, tasting edible plants, and listening to sounds of running water, birds, or the wind rustling leaves.. All the while you have no plan, nowhere to go, and nothing to prove.
It’s not quite as easy as it seems to reset our sensory and technology overloaded minds, by suddenly being in the middle of nowhere, and having no goal to achieve. But regular forest bathing can teach us how to let go of the need to constantly achieve, and how to trust our senses more. Behind the simple concept of forest bathing is a fountain of mindfulness, a practice that has its roots in ancient yogic traditions. In fact, the effects of forest bathing can be similar to a meditation practice.
HOW YOU WILL BENEFIT
The benefits from just a couple of days of forest bathing can last up to several months. Japanese medical researchers have documented numerous physiological health effects for Shinrin-Yoku.
Some of these include:
– Reduces high blood pressure
– Decreases depression
– Boosts immune function
– Fights against cancer cells
– Increases energy levels
– Accelerates recovery from illness
– Helps with stress and insomnia
Forest bathers are also reporting a deeper sense of connection with source energy/life/spirit, heightened intuition, boost in creativity, more vitality, ability to focus and cope with daily life, along with a general sense of well-being.
Grounding or earthing, aka going barefoot, is a powerful way to deepen your forest bathing experience. Research shows that grounding for as little as ten minutes can balance the nervous system, neutralize free radicals, and provide relief for inflammation.
NOT JUST ANOTHER ECO TREND
I have to admit that I first suspected forest bathing to be just another passing eco craze. After investigating deeper, I now realize that Shinrin-Yoku has the potential to become a lasting worldwide health movement. Taking an ancient folk remedy and turning it into a trendy, alternative eco- lifestyle is nothing short of genius. Thanks to the Japanese government for popularizing nature again! What is great about Shinrin-Yoku is that it can be practiced by anyone, anywhere there is nature around, even in a park, or a backyard.
RETURN TO YOUR ROOTS
Japanese forest bathing is a multi-sensory experience – a way to reset our busy minds and bodies. It is not simply taking a walk or a hike in the forest, but experiencing the pure joy, peace, and presence of being one with nature. Shinrin-Yoku brings you back to the roots, and restores that vital connection with nature, that your body may have temporarily forgotten.
From Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted:
“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.”
― John O’Donohue
The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki