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Forest bathing is like a bubble bath for the soul.
It is intended to be a practice, similar to and aligned with yoga, meditation, prayer, exercising, and other endeavors, rather than a one-time event.
Developing a meaningful relationship with nature occurs over time, and the connection is deepened by returning frequently throughout the natural cycles of the seasons.
Have you ever gone in the woods, not to hike but just to be? When was the last time that you just sat in nature with no agenda?
When we are busy racing around almost all the time, it’s easy to forget to take a break and slow down. We may have become so accustomed to rushing, so immersed in the culture of speediness, even during yoga, that we no longer know how to stand still.
Forest bathing is more than just another self-care trend, it is an age-old practice of healing in the fresh air, of mindfully spending time with Mother Nature. The idea is that when humans spend time in a natural setting, especially under a lush forest canopy, we experience rejuvenating benefits to the mind, body, and spirit.
This is not a new concept. Traditionally, countless generations have sought the restorative benefits of the forest in everyday life. Of course, over the millennia, with the increase of industry and modern civilization, we moved away from the forest and into the hustle and bustle of the city. We lost touch with nature.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing is the simple practice of connecting with nature with the intention of improving health. The technique was first developed in Japan in the late 80s and coined “shinrin-yoku.”
According to Dr. Qing Li, the author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, forest bathing “is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”
Forest therapy prioritizes sensory experience over intellectual. It’s not so much about learning as simply experiencing, or being. Unlike most approaches to nature education, forest therapy is primarily concerned with nurturing curiosity, asking good questions, and connecting with nature.
There are endless activities that can be performed in the forest to enhance relaxation and connect deeply with nature, such as mindful walking, yoga, mindful eating, hot spring therapy, t’ai chi, meditation, breathwork, aromatherapy, writing, painting, drawing, and plant observation. Any activity is likely to be healing when it makes room for awareness, quiet, presence, and inquiry through as many sensory modes as possible.
Spending time in nature allows the mind to function more clearly and creatively. It can also enhance a positive mood, give us laser-sharp focus, and uplift our energy.
Breathing the natural essences that trees release into the air can actually help boost our immune system. By reducing high stress levels, we allow the body’s natural defense system to work its magic. As well, people who spend time in the forest have a reduced risk for heart conditions, skin conditions, and asthma.
One study found significantly decreased levels of hostility and depression among the research subjects who spent a regular amount of time in forests.
Interestingly, forest bathing was historically used as a cure for tuberculosis. In the late 1800s, physicians established sanatoriums in the pine forests of Germany, as well as in the Adirondack forests in Upstate New York. All reported benefits from the moist forest air. There was speculation among the physicians of the time that pine trees secreted a healing balm into the air.
How to Forest Bathe
Walk aimlessly and slowly through the forest. Let your body be your guide, tuning in and listening to find out where it wants to take you.
Take off your shoes. Notice all the details of your forest sanctuary. With no specific destination in mind, wander, observe, and immerse yourself in nature. Allow your intuition and senses to take the lead and guide you along a meandering path. Follow a trail into the forest. When you have become completely surrounded by nature, stop, close your eyes, and engage your senses. Savor the amazing sounds, rich smells, and beautiful sights of nature. Let the forest seep into your body, mind, and heart.
Notice the smell of the earth and the natural aromatherapy of the trees and plants around you. Listen intently to the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze, the birdsong, and whatever other sounds arise in each moment. Observe the feeling of your clothing and the air gently touching your skin. Look at the many shades of green in the trees, and see the sunlight filtering through the branches and the shadows on the ground.
Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Hug a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a bubbling brook. Lie down on the ground. Drink in the forest and feel a growing sense of joy and tranquility.
Take your time. There is no goal or destination. The path is the journey.