During the weekends I can really enjoy going for a walk in a nearby forest. Besides taking a short break, it’s an ideal way to find inner peace during and after the walk. I also feel it helps me appreciate nature more, as I notice the animals, plants and fruits of nature surrounding me.
So it’s more than just strolling through the woods; you use all your senses. You see and smell the trees and plants, feel the ground beneath your feet, hear the leaves rustling in the wind…
Maybe you’re already taking ‘forest baths’ without being aware of it. Even if you are not yet familiar with the term, it is very interesting to find out what healing mechanisms are behind it. There actually seems to be a whole tradition behind it.
Shinrin-Yoku is a term first used by the Japanese Forest Agency in 1982. The aim was to encourage the adoption of a healthy lifestyle by taking regular walks in designated forests. It’s actually a form of relaxation in nature where you can breathe in the oxygen-rich air and relieve your entire nervous system of stress.
Shinrin-Yoku literally means ‘bathing in the forest’, and is commonly known as ‘forest bathing’ or ‘forest therapy‘. It’s not like you take a real bath in the woods, but you immerse yourself in the green.
You do this by lowering your pace, consciously opening your senses and letting the healing atmosphere of the forest flow into your body and mind. In this way you experience deep relaxation and there is room to ‘get out of your head’. You are completely in the here-and-now and you become silent.
Although an ‘official’ forest bath can take two to three hours, you’ll notice the difference already after 30 minutes. Shinrin-Yoku is an individual experience, but just like with yoga or meditation you can also do it in a small group.
In Japan there are over 50 ‘therapeutic forests’ where you can participate in special programs to help you relax.
Positive Effects On Health
A lot of international scientific research has been done on the positive effects of Shinrin-Yoku on our health.
For example, Dr. Qing Li found out that various trees and plants produce essential substances that activate the autonomic nervous system and thus lower the blood pressure. This gives our immune system a boost.
The more varied the planting in a forest or nature reserve, the more different essential substances there are in the air.
Walking improves our cardiovascular and metabolic health, decreases the blood-sugar levels and helps us lose weight.
The contact with nature also stimulates the recovery from stress spectacularly. You experience a deep ‘release of tension’ and feel more energetic.
Walking in nature also leads, according to other scientific research, to an increase in natural killer cells, which seek out and fight infections, cancers and tumors. This would even contribute to long-term protection against the development of cancer.
You can look at more scientific research here.
It Helps To Calm Your Monkey Mind
Although the healing effect of nature has long been known, it is fascinating to see that a walk in the forest can apparently already make a difference at the level of measurable brain activity.
In a study of Stanford University, researchers allowed one group of people to walk in green nature for 90 minutes. Another group walked for 90 minutes through an urbanized area. The people in the ‘green group’ afterwards had less negative, repetitive thoughts about themselves than the others. These kinds of thoughts have been linked to an increased risk of depression in previous studies.
The results were measured using a questionnaire and a brain scan, both before and after the walk. While the questionnaire provided insight into how the participants themselves said they felt, the scan showed that the brains of the people in the group who had walked in nature were less active in an area associated with the risk of mental illness
Another study showed that nature walks also boost your memory. At the University of Michigan, students were given a memory test and then divided into two groups. One group took a walk through a park, the other in a city district. After returning, they took the test again. The park walkers now performed 20 percent better, whereas the city walkers did not make the test any better than before.
Now It’s Up To You
Forest Bathing is very accessible. You don’t need any special skills, just an open mind and the will to make conscious contact with the natural elements. A good pair of hiking boots can be convenient of course.
Bathing in the woods has no well-defined rules. There is no step-by-step-plan to follow.
By consciously slowing down, without an end goal, and by absorbing the environment with all your senses.
In order to be able to fully absorb the surroundings, it can be important to leave your mobile phone at home.
With Shinrin-yoku you are connected to nature and absorb everything in the here and now.
Take off your shoes and walk for a while on bare feet or socks, while the ground massages the soles of your feet.
Now close your eyes and notice how your hearing and sense of smell are taking over; you may suddenly notice things you hadn’t noticed before.
Find a quiet spot and lie down on the ground and observe the clouds, with the tickling grass under you and the caress of the wind on your skin.
Let your hands rest on the trunk of a tree and feel what this does to you.
And at all times be respectful of the plants and animals.
It will take a while before you are no longer distracted, since are busy ‘monkey minds’ constantly hear crowds and noise.
If you like to learn more about the healing effect of forests, or want to be inspired by creative ideas, I recommend you the website of Healing Forest.
The following authors can also help you with refining the art of Shinrin-Yoku:
– Dr. Qing Li
– Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
– M. Amos Clifford
I hope you enjoy a bit of Shinrin-Yoku now and then! I’m curious about your experiences. Feel free to share them below.
With love ❤,