A guide to Forest Bathing, Shinrin-yoku
Spending time in nature has always been important, but for many of us over the past 18 months, it has become an essential comfort, perhaps even a coping strategy. The salty smell of sea air, the way the sunlight dances through the deep green leaves of an oak tree, the sweet sound of a skylark’s song on a crisp spring morning. Soaking it all in feels like escapism and so good for the soul. It invigorates us, leaving us feeling restored, energised and rejuvenated.
What is shinrin-yoku?
In Japan, people have been practising something called shinrin-yoku for years. It translates as ‘forest bathing’ and is an invitation to totally immerse ourselves in a particularly nourishing part of nature: trees.
You might think you have been doing this all your life – going for a walk in the woods. But a key aspect is to frame it as a kind of meditation or therapeutic healing practice. So that rather than briskly walking your dog while mentally making a to-do list for the days ahead, you are consciously spending mindful time amongst the trees for the sake of your health and wellbeing.
Where does it originate from?
Shinrin-yoku first originated in Japan in the 1980s as a response to mass urbanisation and the unhealthy lifestyle that so often comes with living in huge, densely populated cities. Since then it has become the go-to preventative measure for stressed people in Japan – a foundation of preventative healthcare and healing – and it is becoming more popular around the globe.
The concept behind shinrin-yoku is simple. Just being outside, away from technology, work and the busy life of the city, surrounded by nature, is the ultimate stress-reliever. And there is something particularly humbling and beautiful about being surrounded by trees who have stood for many years, their towering, consistent presence putting our worries and everyday stresses into perspective. But amazingly, the health benefits of shinrin-yoku run much deeper than you might imagine. These range from boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure, to improving cardiovascular function and inflammatory indexes, as well as to significantly enhancing people’s emotional state, including alleviating anxiety and depression.
Is there a science behind forest bathing?
So what is it about trees that make us feel so good? One thing is phytoncides. These are the airborne chemicals or essential oils given off by trees. Close your eyes and imagine that beautiful, clean, distinctive smell of the forest. That scent is the phytoncides. Phytoncides have natural antimicrobial and insecticidal qualities that protect trees from germs, parasites and disease. The magic thing is that phytoncides don’t just protect trees, but they also benefit forest visitors too. So when humans breathe phytoncides in, they can produce many incredible benefits inside our bodies too.
Another amazing factor to consider is that there are high levels of negative ions in the forest air. Ions are invisible particles consisting of molecules and atoms that carry an electric charge. Generators of positive ions are exhaust fumes, water contamination, air pollution, pesticides, radiation and UV rays. Excessive exposure can result in headaches, dizziness, nausea, inflammation, weakened immune system, fatigue, poor circulation and aggravation of conditions such as asthma and arthritis. In contrast, negative ions are what help the body activate immunity-boosting cells. There is evidence to suggest that once negative ions reach our bloodstreams, they produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of serotonin in our bodies, helping to relieve stress and alleviate depression.
Simple steps to Forest Bathing
If all this sounds as good to you as it does to us, follow our simple steps below to begin your own journey to improved health and wellbeing with shinrin-yoku.
- Leave behind your phone, camera, headphones, and any other distractions – perhaps even including your family and friends. You want to be able to fully immerse yourself into the present moment, without being drawn out of yourself by the ping of an email or somebody else’s chit-chat.
- Take yourself to a piece of woodland or forest and give yourself time to get lost in its wonder. If you know the land well, try wandering along a different route through the trees, being curious as to where your instinct takes you. See if you can follow your body – perhaps your nose – rather than being led by the habits of your mind.
- Stand still from time to time to soak it all in. Make use of all five of your senses. Notice every shade of green you can see, hear each and every rustle of leaves underfoot and overhead. Perhaps take off your shoes and feel the earth beneath your feet or reach out to feel the rough texture of the bark of a tree. Take some long breaths and see if you can taste the quality of the forest air on your tongue. Breathe in the rich fragrance of the forest with each deep inhale, knowing you are nourishing your body with goodness.
- Tune into the animals and creatures around you. How many breeds of birds can you spot? Can you differentiate each one’s song? And what about zooming into the insects around you too – sit down on the earth for a moment or two and notice how you are sharing the space with worms, ants, beetles and so many more tiny creatures, diligently going about their day.
- Know you can practice shinrin-yoku anywhere there are trees. So if you can’t make it to the woods, simply head to your nearest park or garden and spend some time sitting or lying under the trees there. Try it in all seasons – hot or cold, dry or wet. Try to embrace all weathers – wrap up warm in your waterproofs in the winter rain, tipping your face up to the sky and relishing the feeling of aliveness as it drips onto your cheeks. Equally drink in the warmth of the sun on your skin on a hot summer’s day.
Time to reconnect with nature and boost your health with forest bathing. Try to schedule time outdoors each day, but try not to feel limited if your circumstances prevent you from getting out into nature. Perhaps decorate your home with scenes of nature, or consider filling your house with plants and spending some time each day just sitting with them.
We would love to hear from you about your experience with forest bathing. Maybe it’s a long time habit, or you are just beginning your journey.... please email firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on Instagram, @ancientandbrave.