Having to spend more time inside lately I've taken up researching more into the health benefits of spending time in nature, specifically the practice of forest bathing also known as Shinrin-Yoku. I've particularly enjoyed reading Dr Qing Li's book - Into the forest where I'm starting to learn more about Shinrin-Yoku.
The word Shinrin-Yoku was coined by Tomohide Akiyama in 1982. The word literally translates as "Forest bathing". This is a practice that has been used in Japan as a form of therapy due to the evidence of physiological and psychological effects that forests have on our health and wellbeing. In Japan there are over 60 official forest therapy trails for the sole purpose to practice Shinrin-Yoku as a preventative measure against illness.
The act of forest bathing is simply to be out in nature, forests or woods, leave behind distractions and spend time in these environments, connecting with nature through sight, hearing, taste , smell and touch.
"When we open up our senses , we begin to connect to the natural world" - Dr Qing Li
The practice can be slow walking or simply sitting for a period of time to fully experience the atmosphere.
How to practice Shinrin-Yoku
Leave any devices and distractions at home, you're going to want to disconnect from social media, work and life stresses and be in the moment.
The aim is to wander slowly , this isn't a time to hike or jog. You want to be able to take in your surroundings and let your intuition guide you.
Engage your senses - Listening , looking , smelling, tasting and touching.
What can you hear? The sounds of birds? Water? Sounds of the trees rustling and creaking?
Focus on looking all around not just where you're going, what can you see? various colours? shapes of the leaves? sunlight and shadow?
What can you smell? Trees and plants give off phytoncides, research has shown that exposure to these phytoncides significantly decrease levels of stress hormones, and feelings of anxiety as well as increasing the numbers of NK (Natural Killer) cells, a type of white blood cell that attack and kill unwanted cells such as viruses & tumours.
Taste, can you taste the fresh air ? Breathing in and out deeply.
What textures can you feel? The differences in bark on the trees? Grass under bare feet?
Studies show as little as 20 minutes forest bathing can have a beneficial impact on our stress levels and concentration - taking 20 minutes out of your day to sit in your favourite spot in your local natural environment might be all you need to help prepare you for a busy day or to recover after a stressful day.
I'm eager to learn more about this practice and especially now we can venture out for longer periods of time it would be nice to see if I can squeeze in at least 20 minutes here and there of forest bathing myself - it can be hard to shut off even when we are out I do find myself wanting to capture elements of nature through photography but I really should consider being in the moment to get the most benefits.
As I mentioned I am only just researching this topic, so I would like to mention the books that I've been reading which you might want to consider taking a look at too.
Please forest bathe responsibly and safely. Let me know your thoughts!