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The assertion that we are in danger of losing touch with nature is not exactly groundbreaking stuff. More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with hectic lifestyles in performance-driven economies making us ever more stressed, anxious and ill. Not only are we struggling to switch off and recharge, but also we seem to have forgotten where we come from. Many people haven’t even been to a forest recently, nor do they even know what forest bathing is or the importance of getting outdoors.
What we are increasingly lacking is the connection with the world around us. We have to feel part of the rhythms of nature. In order to restore balance, we don’t need pills and potions, we need to get away from the screens and devices that seem to pervade most of our waking hours, and just get out there.
What is Forest Bathing?
One way of supercharging your mental and physical wellbeing is to go forest bathing. The concept, such as it is, originated in 1980s Japan where it is called Shinrin Yoku – shinrin meaning forest and yoku meaning bath – and proved to be very effective in overcoming work stress and the hectic pace of life.
The idea is you fully immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere as a deeply relaxing and restorative multi sensorial experience. We dedicated a podcast to this topic recently – you can listen to it here.
The simple method of being calm in the middle of the forest, quietly observing nature all around you and ‘drinking’ it all in, is a natural way to boost health. Benefits include reduced stress hormone production, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improved feelings of happiness and creativity, and better immune system response aiding recovery from illness.
This kind of natural ‘healing’ has a deeply emotional and spiritual dimension that goes way back. The ancient Druids, for instance, sensed nature as divine and sacred. To this day, trees and woods are routinely used as locations for meditation and ritual among the Druidic community, or simply to commune with nature. Shamanistic religions, too, are focused on nature and all of creation, even including natural elements such as rain, earth, and water. Healing comes from deep within the spirits of Mother Nature.
If you’re still not sure what it’s all about, here’s a great video by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs that shows you exactly how it works:
Who Will Benefit From Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing is for everyone including children and adults. It is a simple practice of immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way, tuning into your senses to experience a wide range of benefits in terms of your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.
The experience allows the overstressed portions of your brain to relax, and positive hormones to be released in the body. As a result, you feel less sad, anxious and angry. Nature has a positive effect on the body and mind. It improves your heart and lung health, boosts your immune system, increases focus, concentration and memory.
Of course, in order to derive the benefits, there’s no need to seek out the services of a professional ecotherapist if you don’t want to. Forest bathing can be practised by everyone, and as frequently as you wish. All you need is a forest!
How to Go Forest Bathing
The good news is you can practice forest bathing pretty much anywhere in the world. The main thing to remember is to go in silence and to go slow. Allow at least 2 hours for your immersive experience – you can’t rush a forest bath! Use your senses – touch, smell, sight, hearing, and even taste – to explore things in nature that bring you happiness and peace.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Switch off your devices, so you can relax, be mindful and enjoy a sensory forest based experience.
- Slow down as you move through the forest so you can take in everything around you and feel more.
- Take deep, long breaths and make your outbreath twice as long as your inbreath. This sends a message to your body to relax.
- Stop and stand still, or sit down, so you can give your full attention to what’s around you. What can you hear, smell, see, feel, taste?
- Look at nature’s small details, using all your senses to take in your surroundings. How does the forest make you feel?
- Sit in quiet contemplation, using mindfulness techniques and practices such as this one to focus on the here and now.
- Keep your eyes open to appreciate the soothing colors of nature. Studies have even shown that green and blue are the most relaxing colors.
- Stay in the forest for as long as you can and as long as it feels comfortable, building up to a recommended 2 hours.
Three Stages of a ‘Forest Mind’
Ultimately, you should be aiming to get into the habit of forest bathing as a way to reconnect with nature on a regular basis. That way, the health and wellbeing benefits you experience will be progressive. There are three stages to a ‘forest mind’:
Attention means focusing on objects in nature, with the aim of holding your attention and slowing you down. If you can direct and control your attention, you can learn to control the direction of your thoughts and feelings.
Awareness happens when you have reached a calm state of mind and you can start to sense life in all its transformations, starting with a seed in the ground. By growing your awareness, you can develop your connection to all of life in nature.
Answers are possible when space is created for new insights to reveal themselves. The forest holds the answers to the questions we have yet to ask. It’s the beginning of a journey into self-discovery.