Want to calm your mind, re-energize your body and tap into your inner self? Let me introduce you to “Shinrin-Yoku,” the Japanese mindfulness practice of Forest Bathing. And no, you don’t actually have to take a shower in the woods.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing or Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese practice that has become widely popular across the globe. It is a form of nature therapy and is considered as an immersive experience which is beneficial for our mental and physical health. Sometimes referred to as forest therapy, ecotherapy or grounding, this relaxation practice involves being mindful and calm while being in the presence of nature – trees, lakes, hills etc. Although no bathing is involved in the literal sense, it requires us to absorb and take in the natural environment so that we can experience less stress & anxiety, feel relaxed, gain insights about ourselves and connect with nature. The objective is to be mindful and immerse ourselves and our senses in a natural setting.
There is no doubt that spending time in nature is beneficial for our overall health and well-being. However, unlike taking a hike or engaging in any therapeutic activities, Shinrin-Yoku is simply about being present in nature and being quiet and calm while being surrounded by trees. All you need to do is breathe deeply while mindfully observing the natural environment around you. It does not necessarily need any expert supervision and hence, you can practice it by yourself without being guided by any certified therapist. Moreover, this form of therapy can be beneficial for both children and adults in boosting their overall well-being.
Related: Tree Energy: How Trees Help Us Heal
Forest bathing is a form of therapy that involves a set of practices that goes beyond simply walking in the woods. The contemplative and conscious practice requires us to be mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually present in the moment and take in the smells, sights and sounds of the forest and nature around us. Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing “is a traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses,” explains a 2017 study. The study reveals that this practice is associated with different healing benefits and improves the immune system function, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system. It also helps to reduce stress, anxiety & depression, boosts mental relaxation, gratitude and selflessness. “Forest bathing activities may significantly improve people’s physical and psychological health,” states another 2019 study.
Origin of Shinrin-Yoku
According to a 2016 study, “In Japan, forest bathing is a short leisurely visit to a forest, called Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, which is similar in effect to natural aromatherapy, for the purpose of relaxation.” Researchers proposed this concept as a natural preventive measure against lifestyle-related diseases. The term Shinrin-yoku was coined in 1982 by Tomohide Akiyama, the head of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to encourage Japanese people to visit forests more often. The Japanese term ‘Shinrin’ means “forest’, while the word ‘Yoku’ means bath. So the phrase can be roughly translated to bathing in a forest or absorbing the natural atmosphere in a forest through our senses. The practice became a crucial aspect of “preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine” in Japan during the 1980s. It was introduced as a form of simple and effective type of mobile meditation in nature and was included in the nation’s national health program.
The idea was developed to help people cope with the stress and pressure of living a fast-paced and chaotic life, especially in the urban areas. It was believed that spending time under the relaxing canopy of a forest will help individuals experience the restorative mental, physical and spiritual benefits of nature, which proved to be highly effective. Although nature therapy is not a new concept, the simplicity and effectiveness of forest bathing made this practice highly popular among people who spend most of their time in stressful work environments, small apartments and endless traffic. It is simply a way to get us back to our natural roots and connect with nature.
As the majority of the land in Japan is covered by forests, people can easily practice forest bathing and experience relaxation. Currently there are around 44 accredited Shinrin-Yoku sites in Japan with a strong focus on establishing the practice globally.
How to start forest bathing
Shinrin-Yoku is not really a complicated process that you will need to follow specific steps in order to practice this form of mindfulness and relaxation. “Forest bathing is a traditional practice characterized by visiting a forest and breathing its air,” states a 2019 study. It is as simple as being in nature and breathing mindfully. Although conceptually a forested area is recommendable, you could also practice in your local park or even in a garden. Studies show that visiting an urban park for around 20 minutes can be beneficial for your subjective well-being. Moreover, evidence shows that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature, whether in longer durations or shorter visits, can be beneficial for our health.
However, if you want to have an authentic forest bathing experience and go beyond city parks, then here are few steps that can help you get the best experience and help you feel relaxed and calm –
1. Find the right place
Start by locating a forest, a conservation area, a nature park, garden, lake or a wooded area in your locality. Any location that is far from the hustle and bustle of the city and entrenched in nature will work fine. In case you are unable to access a forested area, you can choose to take a walk in your neighborhood park.