Forest bathing which is known in Japan as Shinrin-yoku is a practice in which one absorbs the forest atmosphere. It doesn’t have a fixed purpose other than awakening the senses and experiencing the restorative benefits of spending time within a living forest.
A passage from Thoreau’s Walden
“As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying twos and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fishhawk dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the shore; the sedge is bending under the weight or the reed-birds flittering hither thither”
Henry David Thoreau
Forest bathing – Going with the flow
Forest bathing – as the name suggests – involves heading into a natural space, preferably a forest and soaking up the atmosphere that it has to offer.
In the modern world we often get caught up in multitasking and trying to achieve many things at a given time.
One of the crucial elements of forest bathing is minimizing our efforts to achieve anything. Most of us aren’t accustomed to this sort of aimless happening. Often we have outcomes we wish to see completed even when in nature. Certain foods we wish to forage, movements we wish to execute, or destinations we wish to arrive at.
Off course all of these things are great, however occasionally it adds another dimension to nature if we set out without any formerly conceived ideas about what should happen. This is where it’s restorative properties reach another level.
To be able to fully appreciate this process it is fundamental that we fully unplug and leave any modern technologies such as mobile phones behind.
Forest bathing awakens the senses
Many activities in nature are great for awakening the senses and forest bathing is no slouch. It may even work better for certain individuals than those with more practical applications such as Earth skills due to its meditative element.
At the beginning of the forest bathing practice, before undertaking any movement, it is advised that you first tune into your senses in a meditative manner. This usually involves keeping the eyes shut for most individuals and paying attention to the breathing. Following that, slowly increase the awareness in each of your senses sequentially.
What can you hear? Babbling brooks, wind in the trees, birds calling?
What can you smell? The fresh air, the earthy smell of dirt and fallen leaves, the individual scents of plants and flowers?
What can you feel? Moisture in the air, the direction of the wind, the ground beneath your feet?
As your awareness grows slowly open your eyes. Experience each sight as if it is for the first time. See how vibrant the colors are, the extraordinary details in every living thing, and observe the space as well as what occupies it. Allow all of the sensations to gradually intensify.
When forest bathing we are not trying to put labels on the many sights, sounds and smells, and feelings that we experience. Instead we are allowing them to be understood innately without any mental chatter attached to them.
Explore the forest
After paying attention to your senses you may wish to go and discover more about the forest you have connected with.
The idea is that we move gently through the forest and allow nature to guide us though the experience. Forest bathing is the opposite of a workout. It’s slower than most people’s perceptions of ambling. It better relates to a frivolous occurring. Gracefully pay attention to every step. You may even consider a barefoot expedition.
As with the nature that is surrounding us, we should not rush. If we find ourselves, exerting more than minimal energy, we are advised to pause and observe our breathing for a few moments, and then return to our tranquil motions.
Discover a sense of child like curiosity for the diversity of life that the forest holds. Search, test and be indiscriminate.
If you feel drawn to something approach gradually and intuitively and seek to understand the connection between the two of you that is present.
When the time is right find a place to sit. Relax, remain still, observe and allow the forest to reveal itself to you. The longer you sit the more you will see. Your inner stillness will further emerge and your connection with the non-human world will profoundly deepen. Appreciate this and when the time comes to leave the forest offer gratitude for your experience.
Final thoughts on forest bathing
Forest bathing is a full sensory immersion that allows nature to invigorate us. If practiced on a regular basis the bonds between yourself and nature will become stronger, and your own wild self will become a little louder.
– It is recommended you give yourself a minimum of two hours when forest bathing to allow yourself to truly unwind.
– Pay attention to the place when you arrive
– Spend at least 15 minutes awakening the senses.
– Move, sit, observe, and stay present.
– The distance covered is usually less than a mile.
– The trail should not be challenging. This is probably the only time I will say that on this site.
– Forest bathing doesn’t always require a forest but it is the preferable setting for the full benefits of this undertaking. One is which a flowing water body is present is the most ideal.
– Offer gratitude when the experience is over.
If you want to discover more about this practice I recommend the following book which is available on Amazon.
Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature
If you are interested in some of the scientifically proven benefits of forest bathing or aka shinrin-yoku, check out the following links:
“If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound?”