The need for fresh air and a ray of sunshine! I hear the forest calling but can’t seem to get there anytime soon. The city is driving me crazy - noise, car fumes, the busyness that is created when it doesn’t need to be created. I crave simple, I want calm, I need quiet. I only want to hear the wind in the trees and the cicadas chirping.
“In the forest, there’s no need to try to relax. Just go outside and Nature will work her magic to relax and restore you. Studies show that people feel more relaxed after just fifteen minutes of being in nature. And they report feeling greater vitality, too. Being surrounded by aliveness literally makes us feel more alive.” ― Julia Plevin, The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing: Finding Calm, Creativity, and Connection in the Natural World
What can we do when we need to slow down but are unable to get to our desired destination? Well I found an option the other day when I attended a shinrin-yoku or forest bathing walk and it made me realise that if you seek out your local National Park or bushland or park, you can escape for a couple of hours and return home refreshed and rejuvenated - a mini escape that soothes the soul.
For those not familiar with shinrin-yoku it originated in Japan in the 1980’s and can be translated to forest bathing. Think of it as taking in the atmosphere of the forest. You engage your senses and simply be in nature. You wander through the bushland - this is not a bushwalk with the purpose of going quickly - you slow down and take in your surroundings.
You might notice a wren flitting around from branch to branch or the smell of the eucalypts. You may stand by a tree and just listen……..
It was part way through the walk that I realised I was slowing down into a meditative state. One where I was happy to meander the forest floor and I was no longer thinking of things at home, but rather the ecosystem around me.
For; if you listen carefully you might hear the sweet whisperings from the forest.
At the end of the two hour immersion into the art of shinrin-yoku I realised I can escape the city, by finding that hidden walking track on my doorstep and getting lost amongst nature. So the next time you need to escape and you can’t leave the city - you may like to find a forest path to stroll along and practice the stillness that is shinrin-yoku.
What exactly is shinrin-yoku?
Since the 1980s, forest bathing has genuinely established itself as more than just the next health 'craze'; and its rise in popularity shows no signs of slowing down. But what is forest bathing, and do the claims that it can revolutionise health and well-being have any factual basis?
Forest-Bathing, or shinrin-yoku in its original Japanese, is a mindfulness practice that involves immersing oneself in nature to realise powerful health benefits - both physically and psychologically.
It originated in the 1980s in Japan to tackle the nation's increasing stress levels, where work-related stress and anxiety were triggering the onset of mental and physiological diseases. And today is no different, particularly in the western world where a culture of 'hustle' and 'burnout' is super prevalent, even normalised.
More and more people are finding themselves out in the forest engaging in this mindfulness practice to manage and alleviate the stresses of everyday life. The primary difference between forest bathing and other outdoor activities is that forest bathing is centred on the ritual of just 'being' in nature and becoming consciously aware of your surroundings by engaging each of the five senses. It is a mental practice as well as a physical experience - where both are required to yield the best results.
For me, forest bathing is about surrendering to the healing properties of nature to harness its full benefits.
As a society; we are spending less time than ever before in history immersed in nature - and forest bathing is one method we can embrace to get ourselves into the outdoors while having a sizeable improvement on our health.
A meaningful connection with nature has multiple health benefits - this concept becomes easier to understand once we contemplate ourselves as part of nature and not adjacent to it. As human beings, we do not operate in an alternate indoor universe, but we are inextricably linked to the natural world and continually reap its benefits, even when we don't realise it.
Where and how do I start?
You are probably thinking - that all sounds well and good - but how do I get started, and how do I know I'm on the right path? Well, it is a good thing I have taken some time to round up some top tips for getting out into nature and getting started.
Switch off your devices
You might not like this one, but... sorry no phones allowed. Forest bathing is about switching off from the virtual world and should be a device-free zone. It should be a full digital detox. This includes your camera, iPod, and smartwatch. This is not the time for an Instagram photo-op or to catch up on your favourite podcast.
Unplugging technology allows the bather to literally and metaphorically switch off from the digital world that consumes our modern day-to-day life. Switching off your devices is the key to creating a distraction-free space allowing you to truly soak up the beauty of the natural world. (Ps. if you plan to forest bath alone, please always take precautions for your safety and always remain contactable)
Forest Bathing is not exercise
You might be thinking - but I go for a run in the forest every Monday - is this forest bathing? The answer is no. You must be mindful not to treat forest bathing as exercise or other physical endurance activities. It is not about perseverance but surrender. It is about surrendering your body and mind to the powerful healing and calming properties of the natural world.
As a society, we have become obsessed with outcome-based goal setting. Forest bathing is an opportunity to free yourself from our modern preoccupation with 'quantifiable' goals, against which we measure our value.
Forest bathing is not about reaching 10,000 steps or elevating your heart rate to a specific BPM; it is not about fitness levels. Forest bathing is giving yourself the gift of slowing down and soaking up what nature offers.
Focus on the Five Senses
The fundamentals of Forest Bathing are based on animating all five senses. This is where the therapeutic effects of the forest shine through.
Take the time to get still and tune in to the sounds around you; listen to the rustling of the leaves and the swaying branches of the trees, listen out for animals, running water or a gentle wind whistling through the canopy.
Focus on your listening, and you will hear nature's very own symphony. Feel the sunlight on your face or the leaves crunch beneath your feet, and absorb the sweet aromas of the trees, flowers, and other vegetation. Some may even choose to sit or lie on the forest floor during their practice.
Focus on your breath
Bring your attention to your natural breathing cycle. Our breath is one of the easiest and most accessible tools at our disposal to help us focus on the present moment. Slow your breath down - four seconds in, hold, four seconds out.
Benefits of Forest Bathing
There are many benefits linked to a frequent forest bathing practice - here a just a few:
Physical Health: Forest bathing is scientifically proven to promote physical health. Phytoncides -the essential oils produced by plants in their metabolic process are genuinely magical. Aside from being responsible for the beautiful aromas of the forest, phytoncides have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They are also known to improve immune responses, reduce blood glucose levels and lower neurons in the nervous system.
Psychological Health: Forest bathing and exposure to phytoncides also have a powerful impact on mental health and mental well-being. Forest-bathing has been linked to improvement in mood due to a reduction in cortisol or the 'stress hormones'. Also; phytoncides are said to fire up the parasympathetic nervous system, improving our sleep quality.
It's Free: Grounding yourself in nature is one of the most cost-effective ways to give back to yourself - mind and body.
Helps Practice Detachment: Often, we can get wrapped up in our heads and as a result we start to believe our thoughts are part of us and that we are our thoughts. Not only is forest bathing a physical detachment from screens and urban settings- but it is also a practice of mental detachment. We gain perspective and a greater handle on our problems when we realise how infinitesimally small we are by comparison to nature's great gifts.
Extends the time we spend outdoors: As children, many of us will have spent countless hours outside, playing in nature and interacting with others - but as we get older, this time in nature begins to diminish. With many of us now spending most of our waking lives indoors, incorporating a practice that brings you back to nature has never been more essential. Naturally, more of us are working indoors and perhaps living in areas that experience extreme weather conditions, which means lengthy periods outdoors are just not viable. However, forest bathing is a beautiful way to boost our time spent outdoors.
But I Don't Like the Outdoors?
Ok, so you never liked camping, and maybe you aren't the biggest outdoor fan - particularly if you are experiencing extreme weather conditions - I agree - it can be difficult to coax yourself out into the open air. But the benefits of forest bathing are too good to forego.
The significance of this practice is proving to be hugely valuable - but if you are not within reach of a forest or woodland - not to worry - other alternatives will allow you to take advantage of mother nature's offerings. Simply walking barefoot in your local park or stepping on your grass outside can advance a meaningful connection to the great outdoors, no matter how big or small.
Overall; forest bathing enhances our well-being. Mindfulness promotes mental clarity, and therefore incorporating mindfulness practices such as forest bathing, yoga, meditation, and cold therapy teaches us that being 'on' does not ensure we are more productive.
There is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that slowing down with the help of mindfulness techniques makes us more creative, promotes mental clarity, and allows us to make better, more informed decisions. When the effects of stress and anxiety no longer dominate our minds and existence - it is only then that we can truly unlock our full potential.
Forest bathing; the cultural phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down despite its large following is making slowing down a priority.
WRITTEN BY COMMUNITY MEMBER LISA D
Today we'll be practicing a simple and enjoyable mindfulness technique called Forest Bathing. In this practice, we retreat for a short time into the natural world to connect with our deeper selves and take a refreshing break from the stress of our fast-paced, cluttered lives.
In recent years, research has demonstrated that forest bathing offers a host of positive effects on the body, mind, and emotions. Yet it’s an easy-to-learn practice that you can use anytime you feel overwhelmed or stressed.
But these days, most of us live and work in cities, far removed from the peace and sanctuary of a true wilderness. So what if you don’t have access to a forest?
I love Forest Bathing because you can practice it anywhere there's a handy green space – whether in a deep woodland area or on a bench in a city park. The only thing you'll need to get started is - a tree!
Whether you can retreat from the world and devote hours to Forest Bathing or can only spare 15 minutes in your lunch break, it will help you slow down and reconnect with your still, calm center.
I also love that there are no hard and fast rules to follow. There’s no one ‘correct way’ to do it. So you have the space and freedom to be creative, explore what works for you, and include whatever brings you the greatest joy.
In this session, I'll guide you through some exercises to help you get started. Feel free to pause the recording whenever you feel you'd like to stop and spend more time enjoying particular sights, sounds or sensations.
So approach this short Forest Bathing session with an open heart and playful mind. Be patient and kind to yourself, and most of all, enjoy taking a break!
To begin seek a natural space where you feel safe and comfortable, I will give you a moment to settle in.
First, whether you’re sitting on the ground, on a blanket, or on a bench – take a few seconds to settle in and get comfortable.
In some meditations, remaining motionless is an essential part of the practice, but this isn’t one of them.
So if you feel the urge to move during our session, that’s OK. Even if you want to stand up and move around at any point, that’s fine too.
Now let's start by inhaling deeply and exhaling fully. (pause) Do that two more times. (pause)
Now your body is settled into this chosen space, where are your thoughts? Take a moment to notice what's on your mind right now. (pause)
It can take a little time to settle the mind. But for the next 15 minutes, I invite you to leave the future and the past to one side.
You'll be able to return to those essential thoughts when we've finished.
And now, let’s consider how you’re feeling at this moment. Are you stressed, calm, happy, or maybe anxious? Take a few moments to acknowledge how you’re feeling – no need to judge or change, just notice. (pause)
And as we start, let’s set an intention for this practice. The only aims are to stay present during the experience. And to savor these unique moments of stillness in the natural environment.
If you’re ready, let’s begin our forest bath.
If it feels comfortable for you, go ahead and close your eyes. Or, if you prefer, lower your gaze and let the muscles around your eyes soften.
Become aware of any tension in your face. Let the muscles of your forehead and around your mouth soften.
Take a moment to consider that the trees around you are breathing out oxygen to nourish every cell in your body. And once again, fill your lungs with that pure, life-giving air. Then exhale - slowly.
Now, I invite you to focus on your sense of hearing. Just listen.
Listen to the noises that surround you. (pause)
You may be hearing the sounds of the forest or the sounds of the city in the distance– they’re both interesting in their own way. Take a few moments to really hear them. (pause)
There’s no need to label them or judge them as 'good' or 'bad' sounds. (pause)
Become the observer. Tune into the sounds of nature if you can and mute the volume of any sounds and noises that are not natural. Take a moment to breathe in and appreciate the natural soundscape that surrounds you for a few moments. (pause)
When you’re ready, can you hear the most distant sound? How far away is it? (pause)
And now, can you zero in on the sound that’s closest to you? (Pause). Perhaps the singing of a bird or the rustling of leaves. Take a few moments to savor that sound. (pause)
When you’re ready, return to the full spectrum of sounds surrounding you and just enjoy them for a few moments. (pause)
If you want to stay longer, pause this recording and return to it when you’re ready to move on.
Now, I’d like to move on to our sense of sight.
I invite you to lift your head and open your eyes fully. It’s time to look at everything around you in your chosen natural space.
Start by lifting your gaze to the skies.
Notice the colors, the patterns, the textures of the clouds, and the play of light and shadows.
If they’re moving, notice how swiftly they pass and change.
If the sky is cloudless, notice that vast calm expanse.
There’s no need to predict what will happen in the future. There’s no need to judge the sky. Just notice it as it is right now, at this moment. (pause)
Then when you’re ready, move your gaze to take in the landscape.
Look into the distance, and observe it as a whole. Notice how many colors you can see, the shapes, the shadows, and the movement of the trees. (pause)
If branches and leaves are dancing in the wind, enjoy the sensation of that same breeze as it brushes against your skin.
Please take a few moments to enjoy and immerse yourself in your surroundings, focusing on small details as they catch your eye.
Then, select one particular tree, one that’s close by. Then, really look at that tree, as if it's the first tree you've ever seen in your life.
How old does this tree seem? Is it young and full of life force? Or is it old and in decline?
Start by looking closely at its trunk and the visible roots. How many colors can you notice? (pause)
Take your time to observe. What does the texture of the bark seem like– smooth or rough? Pitted or peeling away in places?
Now take a few moments to observe the pattern of the branches as they fan out from the tree. (pause)
Are they visible, or perhaps hidden by leaves? And the leaves – notice the myriad colors and shapes.
Let your gaze drop down once more to the base of the tree. Is it covered with leaves that have fallen at the end of their lifecycle? Is there grass, moss, or bare earth?
Consider the colors and textures you notice at the base of the tree. (pause)
If you’ve been sitting for a while, I invite you to stand up and move around freely.
Feel the texture of the ground beneath your feet as you move.
And let’s continue our sensory journey by focusing on our sense of touch.
Move slowly towards your chosen tree. Reach out, and explore the texture of the bark with your fingertips. How does it feel? Is it warm or cool to the touch? (pause)
If you can reach the leaves, take one in your palm. Feel its weight, smell it. How many colors can you see? Notice its shape and the pattern of its veins.
If living leaves are out of your reach, bend down and pick up one that’s fallen.
Then let your fingers touch the earth.
Look carefully and notice the living creatures around the base of the tree – ants, beetles, and unknown insects. All going about their natural business.
No need to judge – just take a few moments to notice the teeming life around every tree and all over the forest (or park) floor.
And by now, you may decide to sit down again, or prefer to keep wandering slowly around your chosen natural space.
To help you stay present and continue basking in these moments of pure sensual enjoyment, focus on each sense as you continue your forest bathing.
Focus on what you can hear, then turn your attention to what you can see, what you can feel, and so on. (pause)
Before we end the practice, integrate all the sensations. Take a few last moments to drink in the rich beauty and wonder of the natural world you've just been exploring. (pause)
Feel the stillness and joy. Feel the life force around you, helping you restore your depleted energies and reconnect with your deepest self. (pause)
And before we end, let’s remind ourselves of the intention we set at the start of this practice - simply to enjoy these moments immersed in
Although there was no focus on achieving any particular goal – you may feel changed – perhaps with a deeper connection with nature and the world beyond our stress-filled, techno-driven everyday lives. Maybe you fill a little more stillness within. A little less stressed and a little more contented with the here and now
To close the practice, let’s take a final deep inhalation and exhale fully. Take a. moment for appreciation for this moment – in the here and now. (pause) Then, move and stretch out in any way that feels good for you.
Your practice is now complete.
Thank you for taking the time to join me today.
I hope you've enjoyed this exploration of forest bathing and that you’ll return to the practice, again and again, to refresh, restore and reconnect with the natural world that is, after all, our true home.