Our lives in the modern world as it exists today are saturated with cutting-edge technology that instantly connects us to the wider world, for better or for worse. Often, we spend multiple hours a day indoors, working at screens only to go home and spend a good amount of our free time staring at smaller ones. Partly as a result of this, not everyone feels an immediate connection with nature, or at least one strong enough to nurture their wellbeing in a meaningful way. Now’s the time we try to find one!
Ever Heard of Forest Bathing?
Shinrin-Yoku or “bathing in the forest air’’ is a therapeutic practice that was developed by the Japanese Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in the 1980s. It was inspired by the need for an antidote to the stress felt by workers during the tech boom. People flocked to the cities for work, and the quickly erected homes built to house them were done so with little consideration for green or open spaces for relaxation, or their lives outside of work. As time passed, depression became a growing issue among these tech workers, and in a country where Zen meditation was already practiced widely, it wasn’t a great leap for people to consider the forest as an effective form of therapy.
In looking at ways to treat and boost mental health, doctors looked for solutions to alleviate everyday stress that weren’t dependent on the use of pharmaceuticals, and forest bathing was just the thing! By spending quiet time in the forest, consciously connecting with nature, workers were able to overcome the stress brought about by their concrete surroundings.
As such, forest bathing is not simply an exercise craze or a meditation technique, rather, it’s an eco therapeutic practice which aims to reconnect you with the natural world. This connection is felt through all five of the human senses, making it a truly holistic experience!
Satisfying the Need for Peace in a Fast-Paced World
There is no denying that the constant stimulation of a busy city is difficult to escape. Someone chooses to join a crammed commuter train mainly because it’s the one and only viable, convenient way to travel to work. Someone else may be required to look at a screen all day simply because their work depends on it. The forest is the polar opposite to most of our working environments, which is why choosing to spend our free time there can be just what our minds and bodies yearn for. Soaking in the peace and tranquility of a forest can help calm us even when we’re at our most stressed out, and give us an opportunity to gain a different perspective of our current situation.
Spending time in the forest away from constant external stimulation and allowing ourselves to immerse our senses is an inherently mindful practice. Feeling the textures of the forest floor, the leaves and solid trunks of the trees, listening to the ambient sounds of birdsong and rippling leaves, and standing mesmerized by the whole spectrum of colors on offer. Forest bathing as a sensory experience also includes your nose; smelling the earthy mulchy vegetation decaying and renewing underfoot. Besides breathing in the clean fresh air, the forest also releases phytoncides, which are similar to natural essential oils, that can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.
When comparing the effects of simply walking in the forest compared to walking in the city, studies have indicated that people’s feelings of negativity, fatigue, and anxiety are reduced after walking in the forest. Another perk of getting out and walking in the forest is getting better sleep as a result, whether it be as a lingering effect of the tranquil surroundings or simply due to the actual physical exercise involved in the process. It can be just as gratifying to spend time in a local park or even your own garden to experience your own personal connection with the outdoor world.
The term ‘‘tree-hugger’’ has historically been used as a derogatory term for environmentalists, especially those whose aim it is to protect woodlands from development. However, in 2016 Lynchburg Parks & Recreation sought to turn that meaning on its head and coordinated a ‘‘Please Do Hug The Trees’’ campaign. Taking inspiration also from Shinrin-Yoku, the campaign aimed to improve environmental wellbeing, getting more people out in the forest, not simply hiking through, but forming real physical connections with nature, with the results being a healthier community possessing a greater appreciation of the natural world.
How to Forest Bathe
There really isn’t a right or wrong way to forest bathe. You can do it alone or as part of a group and the outcomes from guided and non-guided forest bathing can be slightly different. For example, a guided group experience is more likely to bring about feelings of positivity and of group togetherness that boosts our social wellbeing, whereas a self-guided experience can feel more purely introspective. It all comes down to what you want out of your forest bathing experience and it’s never too late to try both!
Whether you’re looking to relax, make a connection with nature, or make some time for undisturbed contemplation you can make the most of your forest bathing experience by:
Being present – Allow yourself a decent window of time to spend in the forest, no phone, no distractions, just some quiet time to concentrate on the here and now.
Being open – There’s a chance you’ll feel a little uncomfortable the first time you find yourself sitting on a forest floor, or a little self-conscious about wrapping your arms around the trunk of an ancient oak. But, we’re here to tell you to go with it! Breathe in the sounds and smells around you, once you’ve immersed yourself, any feelings of awkwardness will gradually fade away.
Being aware – Try to use all of your senses to soak up what’s happening around you. Listen to the birdsong, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the wind as it blows through the branches. Feel the soft moss and rough bark with your fingertips and breathe deeply the fresh clean air.
Reconnecting with nature, and getting in touch with ourselves by bridging the gap between the forest and our busy everyday lives, could give us all the boost of rejuvenation we desire.