Forest Bathing - What's the deal?
Updated: Mar 30, 2022
Many of us know just how relaxing the feeling of walking through bushland or rainforest feels.
Dappled sunlight, dancing through the leaves. Fresh, clean air. The sights, smells and tactile sensations found in these little pockets of green, give us a sense of comfort and vitality. They bring clarity of mind, reduce stress, and worry.
Research shows green spaces can create marked improvements in our mood, increase our energy levels and leave us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
But did you know there is centuries of science, behind these good sensations?
Indigenous and ancient populations have been connecting with nature for over 50,000 years!
In Japanese culture, forest bathing or shinrin-yoku (direct translation ‘forest bath’) has been practiced for decades, as a method of combating stress (and death) from overwork (karoshi). We can certainly adapt the practice for our Australian bush.
It may sound a little airy-fairy, but studies show that a stroll in the forest, immersing yourself in this natural environment can produce measurable health improvements; including cardiac and pulmonary benefits as well as reductions in blood pressure and stress levels.
It is becoming more common for mindfulness therapists to incorporate forest bathing into their toolkits.
One of the best things about forest bathing, is how easily accessible it is. It’s simply about being in nature, while connecting with it and using our senses. Really taking it all in. You don’t need a guide to try this or even a bona fide forest.
You can do it almost anywhere. It doesn’t involve jogging or hiking. Try it in warm weather, cold weather, sunshine, rain, or snow. Just find yourself a little patch of green or a park, even in the inner-city suburbs, and away you go!
So here’s the basics:
1) Find the Spot
Find a suitable place that’s accessible for your fitness level, and easy to walk in, with places to sit. Leave your phone and camera behind. Access to natural waterways such as creeks, streams and waterfalls get’s you bonus relaxation points!
2) Tune In
Once you begin walking in your chosen location, start to really notice the place you are in. Tune into your body and pay close attention to all of your senses. What do you see, what can you smell, what does the ground feel like beneath you, what can you hear?
3) Channel a snail
Walk at a steady and slow pace. I really mean at a snail’s pace. Seriously. Once you are walking step by step in this fashion, notice the movement around you in the forest. This might be trees moving with the wind, birds, or butterflies or even tiny ground insects. If it is a soft rainforest floor, walking barefoot in the wet leaves and mud can feel extra therapeutic.
4) Explore your senses
Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air, as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavour of the forest and let it envelope you with a sense of joy and calm.
5) Get personal
When it comes to finding calm and relaxation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – it differs from person to person. It is important to find a place that suits you. If you love the smell of damp soil, you will be most relaxed where the natural landscape provides this. Then the effects of the forest will be more powerful. Perhaps, you have a place in the countryside that reminds you of your childhood or of happy times in the past. These places will be special to you and your connection with them will be strong.
It doesn’t matter how fit – or unfit – you are. Shinrin-yoku is suitable for any level of fitness.
One last note - It will be hard the first few times you try this. But try to approach the practice with an open mind and without your phone!