Forest-bathing, or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, is absolutely free and offers a range of health benefits.
Chances are you are reading this indoors. Chances are, like most of the world’s population, you are spending a lot of your time indoors and in urban environs. It’s great fun living the city life – we are entranced by it. Problem is, while it’s entertaining, your body, or in other words human biology, likes being in nature, especially in forests.
Our indoor and urban lifestyle has resulted in an increase of nature-deficit disorder, especially in children, affecting behaviour and mood, and often associated with depression, anxiety, and poor concentration. We too often forget that we are part of nature, that we need it. It’s coded into us.
Forest bathing is the antidote to nature-deficit disorder
Forest bathing has probably been something humans have done for a very long time. It’s simple really, just slow down in a forest or green space, and you’ll start to feel better. It was popularised more recently in Japan – an island nation two-thirds covered by forest – in the 80s and 90s. Since, the practice has been scientifically researched, and adopted around the world.
In 2018, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li published a book about forest bathing, which he has been studying for many years. He says forest bathing isn’t a sport like running or hiking. It’s being in nature, with your senses wide open so you can fully tune into the natural world around you.
How to forest bathe
Find a place
It doesn’t have to be pristine wilderness; a local park will suffice. If you do live near a forest, or even a stand of trees, all the better. Choosing somewhere close by is also a good idea because then you will be more likely to visit it.
Be tech free
Just for forest bathing, leave all your technology at home; don’t let anything get between you and nature.
Forget following your usual A to B route. Instead, walk slowly and without a goal or destination in mind. Notice where and what you feel drawn to, perhaps a large old tree, or a small stream. Find where feels good. Idyll there.
Once you’ve found a spot to idyll in, begin to tune in on a sensory level. What do you smell, hear, taste, see, and feel? Observe as much as you can. Feel the ground underneath your feet, notice all the shades of green, and appreciate the texture of tree bark with your hands. What insects and animals can you see?
Rest on the earth
Weather permitting of course, sit or lie down on the ground and rest. Observe nature, all of its activity and movement that we are usually too preoccupied to notice.
Take some deep breaths. Try breathing out through your mouth, as if releasing a big sigh. This helps to release tension.
Benefits of forest bathing
There have been many scientifically studies done on the benefits of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, some of these studies have found the following benefits:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
All of these benefits seem a little abstract. In terms of our everyday experience, regular forest bathing will help us feel more connected to our life and the people around us. It helps to cultivate intuition and creativity. Perhaps even more important, it will give us a deeper appreciation for this beautiful planet we live on, and how important it is we take care of it.