Forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku) has been practiced in Japan for over 800 years to help improve physical and mental health. The country now has several designated shinrin-yoku forests and doctors even prescribe it to their patients.
Simply put, forest bathing is a blend of exercise and meditation where you intentionally set out to immerse yourself in a forest environment. It will come as no surprise to readers of this magazine that communing with nature has physical and mental health benefits.
What is, perhaps, surprising is that science has finally got round to studying the practice and describing the benefits. What several studies have found is that being in nature has significant positive effects including enhancing immunity, treating chronic diseases, regulating mood, and reducing anxiety and depression. (Part of me wants to say “Duh! No kidding!” but at the same time it’s great to see what many of us have long suspected reaching a wider audience).
If you would like to give forest bathing a go, then it’s fairly straightforward. Here are 8 simple tips to help you get started:
Set out to have a truly sensory experience. Aim to really focus on touching, seeing, smelling and hearing. If you get a chance to use taste then even better (just don’t eat anything poisonous). You may well do these things naturally anyway, but you’d be surprised how much more you will get out of it by very consciously opening yourself up to an immersive sensory experience.
Komorebi is a Japanese word that doesn’t have an easy English translation. But it refers to the way the light filters through the trees and dances on the trees and the forest floor. Pay special attention to this and allow yourself to get lost in the movement and the rhythm.
The forest is alive but we so rarely take the time to see that. Don’t just notice the wildlife as you pass it. Try to observe how the animals interact with their environment; see how they move, how they are comfortable with their surroundings. And not just the mammals; seek out the beetles and the bugs and the grubs, too.
Stop. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Breathe slowly and deeply and allow yourself to be present. Let the feeling of the forest wash over you and pass through you.
If you’ve never tried speaking to the trees and the plants then you’re missing out! Try telling them what you can see and hear and feel. It can be a wonderful way of forcing yourself to notice and vocalise details that may pass you by if you were just on a normal hike..
Find somewhere comfy and just sit down for 20 minutes. You’d be amazed at how things can change over the course of 20 minutes. And if you sit in the same place every time, you will become even more connected to the seasons, too.
As you get deeper and deeper into your experience, keep breathing, keep observing… By focusing your attention on your environment and practising your sensory awareness, the more likely you are to feel a connection with the forest.
Take some time after your experience before moving back into your normal life. Try to avoid devices for a while and ease yourself into the hustle and bustle. With no sharp jolts back to reality, you should find that the peace and tranquility stays with you for longer.
*This article was adapted, with permission from the author, from “How To Go Forest Bathing”, originally published at EffortlessOutdoors.com
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