What is Forest Bathing?
The word bathing, when used with the word forest, invokes images of swimming in rivers or lakes that are surrounded by trees. That is rarely a part of forest bathing, but it is not completely off the mark.
The air through which we walk is in many ways like water. It moves in current. It flows in waves. You can see this in the myriad patterns of clouds floating in the ocean of sky. In these ways and more, the atmosphere is much like the ocean. The air around us is an ocean in which we have always bathed.
In forest bathing we immerse our senses in the special qualities of the fluid, oceanic ambience of the woodlands. We walk slowly, so we can focus our senses on the uncountable ways the living forest surrounds and touches us.
This amazing nature therapy originated in Japan and its Japanese name is shinrin-yoku. The Government came up with the term and began promoting the practice in the 1980s. This effort was the reaction to the ills of modernity. People were overworked, cities were overcrowded, and Japanese citizens were beginning to have negative physical and mental responses to the new reality of urbanization.
Research indicates that phytoncides, the chemicals emitted by trees are extremely beneficial to human health when inhaled. While forest bathing may sound like the latest in a long line of “new-age” trends promising improved health, research has proven its effects to be both powerful and long-lasting.
Forest Bathing for Mental Wellness
The urgent need of resources for relaxation ensured that Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing, gained an immediate popularity. The concept of taking a walk in the forest to relax and get fresh air is not a novel idea, but naming it as an exercise in mindfulness and healthy living has encouraged people to do just that.
Several studies, like the one carried out by Ming Kuo, from the University of Chicago, concluded that the range of specific health outcomes tied to nature is startling, including depression and anxiety disorders, diabetes, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), various infectious diseases, cancer, healing from surgery, obesity, birth outcomes, cardiovascular disease, and others. “Nature is a powerful physician”. Ming Kuo writes.
Significantly, Forest Bathing provides a boost to the immune system. Kuo proposes enhanced immune function as a central pathway for explaining the numerous health outcomes associated with nature.
Another important benefit is the increased sense of relaxation and greater mental clarity. After a few hours of practice, we will likely feel more relaxed and we just feel better overall. As a result, we may be more focused, be more creative and be more present with those we love. If we suffer from anxiety or poor concentration, that will improve.
How can I practice it?
Here are some basics ideas if you are interested of in trying this out yourself:
1 – Many elements set Forest Bathing apart from other outdoors activities. One is the pace. Walks are very slow and relaxed.
2- Another is distance. There is no need to go far; often less than a quarter mile will do.
3- Focus on your senses and use them to welcome the gifts the forest offers us, such as the sounds and sights and unique energies we feel from place to place along the trail.
4- Let yourself be guided by invitations, rather by accomplishing exercises.
5- Minimize efforts to achieve anything.
6- Ideally your walks will last between two and four hours. This allows time for the mind and body to slow down and become relaxed.
7- Don’t let the experience of others or outcomes such as the feelings of awe described in research studies trick you into trying to have those same experiences.
8- Don’t let concepts such a “mindfulness” or “walking meditation” trick you into making efforts to experience anything other than what the forest offers.
9- Your primarily goal is not to get a workout. It’s more like playtime with a meditative feeling. If you find yourself working out, just pause for a moment of stillness, then proceed again slowly.
10- Consider leaving any technological devices, or only use it in ways that help, rather than hinder.
Remember, Forest Bathing can be an occasional event and show good results for short periods. Some benefits will last for at least a week after a forest bathing excursion, and in some cases up to a month, but keeping a regular weekly practice will maintain them and, over time, boost them towards optimum levels with no medical intervention, no prescription medications, and no invasive procedures. So, after acknowledging all these amazing benefits I have no doubts that after reading this you will go and immerse yourself in the forest.