Hiking in the woods isn’t just a great way to stay fit. It can also help your emotional and mental health. While just spending some time out in nature can be great for you, you can go a step further and practice the Shinrin-Yoku – the Japanese forest bathing therapy.
Don’t write it off as some woo-woo science. It was developed in the 1980s by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and since then there have been multiple studies citing the health and wellness benefits of the practice.
The best part is that you don’t need a ton of time or money to get into forest bathing.
As the name suggests, this therapy is focused on getting out in nature. There’s no ‘goal’ for Shinrin-Yoku. Unlike hiking where you try to reach the summit, the point of forest bathing is to slow down and practice mindfulness while under the forest canopy.
It’s not just about enjoying nature, though. It’s also about using all five senses to experience the world around you.
When choosing a location for this nature therapy, avoid anything that might seem too strenuous. After all, the whole point is to practice mindfulness, which is hard to do when you’re struggling to climb a mountain.
Find a location that has well maintained paths with gentle inclines and declines that is close to your current location. Forest bathing is not a one-time activity. You should repeat it at least once a week.
The whole point of forest bathing is to reconnect with nature, so you should avoid bringing too much stuff. With that said, there are a few things you should bring:
You don’t need to spend hours a day in the forest or park. In fact, you can reap the benefits of forest bathing in as little as 15 minutes. With that said, for best results, you’ll want to set aside an hour or two.
For first time forest bathers, you should check the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy resources to see if there are any programs in your area you can join.
The people guiding these walks are certified and are great for beginners as they can provide guidance on the trails and can direct your attention to points of observation.
If there isn’t a program near you, you can always get started on your own by following this simple guide:
Avoid bringing your phone with you. If you must bring it, avoid using it unless there’s an emergency. It might be tempting to take it out for a picture, but avoid your instinct to do so and instead just enjoy the beauty of nature.
Stop often to take in the entirety of the forest. This means looking around at your surroundings and observing the sights, sounds, and smells. Make note of certain smells you prefer.
You also want to ensure you leave the forest in the same state as when you arrived.
Let your body be your guide and allow it to lead you on your path, to an extent. Make sure you’re still on a trail, especially if you’re in a national park!
Move slowly and quietly. Try to mirror the rhythm of the forest.
Focus on your breathing while you’re walking, and match it up with your steps.
Conclude your session with a ceremonial activity, whether that’s drinking tea, writing your thoughts, feelings, etc. in a journal or, if you’re forest bathing with others, conduct a light conversation about the experience. The point is to slowly reintegrate back into the rhythm of your daily life rather than jump back in.
Forest bathing isn’t just about enjoying nature. It also has numerous health benefits that everyone can enjoy regardless of age such as:
Of course, let’s not disregard the intangible benefits such as a deeper appreciation for nature, an overall increased sense of happiness and, if you forest bathe with other people, deeper friendships.
In today’s connected world, it’s all too easy to fall into a frenetic pace where you’re always on the move. That’s why it’s important to take some time out of your day to slow down and enjoy the world around you.
What do you know about forest bathing? Have you practiced it before? Is it something that you will add to your weekly routine? Let’s discuss more about the topic in the comments below!
Tags Healthy Aging