You might have heard of Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of ‘Forest Bathing’ but do you know how to do it?
For decades, many researches have shown that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.
So, is there a specific art to forest bathing? Or is it just as easy as a walk in the woods?
Connecting with nature is simple, writes Dr. and researcher Li in his book Forest Bathing. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.” Here are some of his suggested steps.
Find a spot. Depending where you are, find a good source of nature. One doesn’t need to journey deep into a forest for these benefits. Just look for any green area. It could be an urban park, a nature preserve, or a trail through suburban woods. Forests with conifers are thought to be particularly beneficial.
“Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says. Some people will respond to sunny glades, others to shadier places. Listen to your own wisdom. For people who don’t have access to a forest, or can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can provide benefits, too.
Engage all your senses. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”
Don’t hurry. Slow walking is recommended for beginners. And it’s good to spend as much time as possible. You’ll notice positive effects after twenty minutes, says Li, but a longer visit, ideally four hours, is better.
Try different activities. Try doing yoga in the woods, or Tai chi, or meditation. Take a picnic. Write a poem. Study plants. You can venture alone, or with a companion. In Japan, forest walking therapists are even available.
Appreciate the silence. One of the downsides of urban living is the constant noise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a wooded area that’s free from human-produced sound. Silence is restorative, and a forest can have its own healing sound—rustling leaves, a trickle of water, birdsong. Spend a few quiet moments with a favorite tree. If nothing else, when we connect with nature we are reminded that we are part of a larger whole. And that, Li notes, can lead us to be less selfish and to think more of others.
Li’s book, is an invitation and an inspiration to take a walk in the woods, wherever you are.
Source: Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, by Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li.
Greater Good Article: Why Forest Bathing Is Good for Your Health