Have you ever heard of “Forest Bathing” or “Forest Therapy”?
I know the first thing that pops in your mind is having a bath in the forest. Well, I thought the same. However, Forest Bathing is a healing therapy with nature. It started in Japan during the 1980s known as ‘Shinrin-yoku’, a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It is a kind of preventive health care and healing therapy used in Japanese medicine. The practice of forest bathing, also known as forest therapy, involves no actual bathing in the forest. It isn’t led by a therapist but a trained, certified guide or guides. There is growing scientific evidence that getting outside in a natural setting is good for mind-body health. Researchers in Japan and South Korea attained scientific literature that showcases the health benefits of forest bathing. Thus, through their research, they are helping to establish shinrin-yoku or forest bathing therapy worldwide.
Each of us lives across the world in varied geographical surroundings – and our definition of forest or wood or nature may be different. Therefore, I urge you not to get bogged down in case you do not have a forest in easy access. Whatever feels closer to nature to you- be it a rainforest, a local park, a grassland, woods, mountain trails, river or sea beaches – all are good to start.
Before you begin your forest therapy, leave all your gadgets at home from phone to camera. Then, find a suitable location in nature. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose and literally your senses. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells, and sights of nature and letting the forest in.
Find a suitable location in nature. The setting for a forest bath does not necessarily need to be a dense forest. However, with trees, it will allow for a more direct engagement through touch. It could be anything from meadows with flowers for a scent based experience or a lakeside forest. It is believed that canopy-dense forest areas, and meadows, provide the best forest-bathing trails because they allow for diversity in light and sound. This will enhance opportunities for observation and various sensory activities.
Also, if you are a beginner and do not know of forest trails, it is best to work with a guide or find nearby forest areas that are accessible, clear and easily navigable. This will allow you to relax and focus on your surroundings rather being anxious and stressed out. What is the point of being stressed during therapy?
To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” – Mary Davis.
Once you enter the forest to practice forest bathing – engage your senses. Let your body grasp everything through all your senses. Feel it through your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, and feet. This step will take you around 15-20 minutes, it is more like a warm-up before an exercise. Stand in one spot and immerse yourself among the environment. For example,
- Listen to the birds chirping
- Hear the breeze rustling the leaves
- Notice the different shades of green
- Breathe in the forest scent
- Inhale the natural aromas of the forest
- Taste the freshness in the air
- Feel and touch the trees and plants around you
- Dip your fingers and toes in the nearby lake
- Lie on the ground and feel the soft earth under you
- Gaze at the wonderful hues in the sky above
These are the keys to unlocking the power of the forest through your five senses. Notice how the fresh air you breathe in affects your body. How your senses vibrate with the touch of stone or rustling leaves ripples the muscles of your hands. Close your eyes to experience a mindful engagement with nature and release a sense of peace and joy within you.
Experience Forest Therapy – let the vibrant energy of the forest flow through all your senses – tingling them and making them come alive!
Breathe in the natural fragrances of the forest. Find spots in the forest that are rich in aromas of soil, leaves, wood, fallen leaves, fruits or flowers. A spot suitable for you will also help you reap in the benefits. It differs from person to person. Hence, some of you might like the smell of a fruit of a tree however, some might like the smell of the bark. Find the preference that will help you to feel more connected with nature and also keep you in a peaceful state. Just Relax in this state!
Certain tree scents can also have particular benefits. Such as cedars, birch trees, that produce phytoncides which increase the number of disease-fighting white blood cells in the body.
As you start Forest Bathing- walk in silence and at a slow pace in tune with the natural rhythm of the forest. Just like how you indulge in mindful eating and notice the food you eat, pay attention to your breathing pattern while you are walking. This will help you to sync your entire body to your natural surroundings. Each breath is accompanied by the lifting of one leg and exhale while you place it back on the ground.
The moment you understand that the forest is breathing out fresh life-giving energy in the form f fresh oxygen you will automatically expand your chest and lungs to inhale.
If you happen to feel restless or fell you are in a hurry – stop and standstill. Reconnect your body with the environment and remind yourself and your body of the purpose of forest bathing.
Once you are comfortable with your leg and breathing movement, speak your observations out loud. Do self-talk with yourself instead of making mental notes of what you see or feel in the forest.
Begin with the phrase “I am noticing…” and add in your personal observations. For example, “I am noticing the breeze rustling the dry leaves on the ground under my feet. The crunching sound of the leaves gives me a sense of satisfaction in a very odd manner, but I like it.” Direct your speech to natural objects that cross your path and make you feel a certain emotion.
Find a comfortable spot to sit for at least 20 minutes where you can meditate and observe your surroundings effectively. You can also make this spot a landmark for yourself to return to it every time you come for your forest bathing sessions. Soon after, return to walking and continue with your forest bathing session.
The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain located at the front of the frontal lobe which is responsible for decision making and problem-solving. When it is overstimulated and overworked, your brain undergoes fatigue and stress.
However, walking in nature helps your prefrontal cortex to be in a state of relaxation. You start to bask at the moment rather than pay attention to your problems. The parts of the brain associated with being mindful become more active.
As soon as you finish your forest bathing session, do not go back to your mundane routine. Find a therapeutic activity to do such as drinking tea.
Traditionally, the Japanese shinrin-yoku sessions conclude with a tea ceremony. Why? Because this allows you to reflect on your entire session and the mindful activities of forest bathing. If you do not drink tea, then opt for water, milk, juice, coffee or a light snack to feed you during this reflective process.
Most of the studies showed benefits when participants practiced forest bathing for 1 to 4 weeks. Thus, the more often you go on forest therapy walks, the better the effects are on you. However, positive results and benefits are attained or seen after 7 days of a forest bathing trip, or even as long as 30 days later.
A recent study published in Scientific Reports found that forest bathing or spending at least 2 hours a week outdoors in natural surrounding connects with good health and well-being. Whether they are regular short walks in a local park or one long hike on the weekend. Just as long as people were connecting with nature and spend more time among nature.
Thus, the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest are:
- Creates Natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells and bacterial infections in the body.
- Decreases the risk of heart attacks
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces blood glucose levels in diabetic patients
- Protects against obesity and diabetes.
- Induces more energy and improves the sleep cycle.
- Improves feelings of anxiety, depression, and confusion.
- Decreases inflammation and joint pains.
- It helps in improving skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis.
- It has a soothing effect on sore muscles.
- One can attain deeper and clearer intuition through forest bathing
- Increase in the flow of energy and life-force.
- Forest bathing helps to attain a peaceful and happy state of mind and being.
Forest bathing, a healing therapy among nature that offers you amazing benefits for your overall well-being. Choose a location near your home that can be easily accessible and help you enhance its therapeutic effects. It wards off stress and anxiety and unloads problems from our monotonous yet unhealthy lifestyle. Various activities you can do in the forest beside forest therapy that will help you to relax and connect with nature. Such as yoga, hot-spring therapy, aromatherapy, art classes, and pottery. It doesn’t matter if you are fit or unfit, forest bathing is suitable for any level of fitness.
Hence, you can forest-bathe anywhere in the world, in all seasons. Once you have learned the art of forest bathing (forest therapy), you can practice it in a nearby park or in your garden but with fewer distractions.
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