In a year like no other, many of us are completely frazzled.
Covid restrictions have forced us to spend increased periods of time indoors, and extra hours per day on a screen. Coupled with the significant stresses dealing with a global pandemic it’s no wonder we are long past feeling our best.
Enter ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ or the Japanese art of forest bathing.
Forest bathing, or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ is a psychological and physiological therapy pioneered in Japan in the 1980’s as an antidote to the stresses of modern life that was increasingly detached from nature. This ecotherapy serves the dual purpose of fostering a sense of protectiveness for the natural world.
The benefits of Forest Bathing has proven so successful since their inception that there are now 44 accredited Shinrin-Yoku forests in Japan, with the research conducted helping to establish forest therapy throughout the world.
The healing power of the forest
In 2004, Qing Li, a Japanese medical doctor and researcher, helped found the Forest Therapy Study Group. He himself had benefitted from time spent in the forest as a stressed-out medical student and he aimed to find out why being in nature helps us feel so much better. Years of careful research have demonstrated that forest bathing can have a hugely beneficial impact on our mental health, decreasing anxiety, symptoms of depression and stress as well as on a physiological level strengthening the immune system and improving cardiovascular health.
Li hypothesises that the health benefits of Shinrin-Yoku stem from two main sources. Firstly, the higher concentration of Oxygen in a forest compared to urban dwellings, think of all of the Oxygen releasing plant-life surrounding you. Secondly plants produce natural chemicals called Phytoncides. These compounds are part of a plants natural defence system and exposure seems to have measurable benefits for humans.
Convinced? Try it out, it’s simple to get started.
Find a spot:
It doesn’t have to be in the wilderness, or necessarily far away at all. Forest Bathing is simply the practice of immersing yourself mindfully in any natural environment, including local parklands. Coniferous forests have been shown to have a particularly high concentration of phytoncides.
Leave your phone, and camera, at home for this experience. Allow yourself to be fully present in nature. Instagram can wait.
Retreat in Silence:
If you choose to forest bathe with others, make a decision to not talk for the duration of the experience.
Tune in to your senses:
Listen to the sounds of the natural environment. Feel the texture of the ground under your feet. Observe the smells of the trees and flowers, the dappling of light through the trees. Touch the leaves and barks, observing the different textures.
Use the surrounding wildlife to form the focus of your mindfulness practice. Move away mentally from to-do lists and obligations and instead use the art of observation to anchor you to the present moment.
Take long slow deliberate inhales, filling the lungs with rich oxygenated air. Exhale slowly and steadily releasing tension from your body.
Don’t Hurry: It takes time to slow our racing mind from the day to day pace of life. Give yourself a chance to settle into the experience.