Forest Bathing

Photo by Sebastian Pickler on Unsplash.

The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku and use it as a nature therapy for spiritual restoration. Developed in 1980 for preventative care and healing, Japan now has 44 designated shinrin-yoku forests across the island nation.

Research shows time spent in forest bathing can have positive neuro-psychological impacts on the nervous system, thus lowering our stress hormone and boosting our immune system. Other reported benefits include increased mental clarity and reduced blood pressure.

In yesterday’s nature immersion post, I included shinrin-yoku in the first draft, but removed it to shorten the post and because it’s a targeted technique usually for a specific time and set of rules. Nature immersion as I described in the post, is more open and freeform in the how, what, when, and where. One of my better nature immersion moments happened in New Mexico with few trees around, whereas shinrin-yoku is immersion specifically in dense forests. Thus, I felt forest bathing deserves its own spotlight.

As with nature immersion, shinrin-yoku focuses on being in and connecting to nature with all your senses. It combines quietly walking, observing, sitting, examining, and more. Here are five steps to guide you on your own shinrin-yoku and gain its benefits:

  1. Take nothing to distract you, especially your phone. You’ll want to be fully present in the forest.
  2. Enter the forest without expectations, or a plan on how to move through the forest. Simply enter and wander, letting your body take you through the forest.
  3. Pause frequently to examine details: tree bark texture, colorful leaves, fungi, etc. During these pauses try to feel the path connecting to you through your feet, and the forest connecting to you through your other senses.
  4. Occasionally sit still on a log or other comfortable option and focus on your hearing. Listening to sounds of the forest, including any wildlife but especially birds, is an amazing connection. You do have to be still and patient, waiting until the the wildlife are aware of you and accept you as another woodland creature and not a threat.
  5. All the above apply whether by yourself or with another. If you do shinrin-yoku with another person, agree to no talking, pointing things out, or otherwise interacting with each other. After the forest bathing, you can discuss and explore your experience.

If you’re interested in learning more about shinrin-yoku, this book is a good start: Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature (Amazon link, but please buy from your local indie bookstore).

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