To begin with I just want to make sure we are on the same page. In case you have never heard of forest bathing, it has nothing to do with a literal bath that includes water. Forest bathing, originally called “Shinrin Yoku” which translate to forest bathing in Japanese. Forest bathing can be described as a mindful walk through a forest, which activates all senses and has a healing influence on us.
We know that spending time in nature is good for our health. But just recently we seem to really understand how good or rather necessary it is.
“The scientific data confirming the mental, emotional, and biophysical benefits of forest bathing are most exciting and validating to me as an integrative physician.” – Philip Barr, MD, Duke Integrative Medicine
In Japan forest bathing is an approved way of health care. In 1970 Japan designated the Akasawa forest their first recreational forest, which is said to be the birthplace of Shinrin Yoku, the forest bathing. The Japanese ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has also started to scientifically proof many of the benefits of spending time in the forest.
„The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced stress
- Improved mood
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy level
- Improved sleep
Just as impressive are the results that we are experiencing as we make this part of our regular practice:
- Deeper and clearer intuition
- Increased flow of energy
- Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species
- Increased flow of eros/life force
- Deepening of friendships
- Overall increase in sense of happiness“ (see full information here )
This is why people with mental health issues, burnouts, stress, anxiety, depression, but also physical health issues like diabetes, heart diseases and the like are recommended to take some time to try forest bathing on a regular basis. Spending one day in a forest is said to increase the natural killer cells about 40% and the increased amount of those cells, the boosted immune system effects, stay within the body for around seven days, without entering the forest again.
Two to three days in a forest are said to keep up the health benefits up to 30 days within the body.
If you manage to take one weekend each month or one day each week to spend it in nature, you will drastically increase your overall health. Simply by being out in nature. It doesn’t even cost anything but your time. Which is valuable, very valuable. But investing your time in your health, is time very well spend, I would say, don’t you think?
You can either go outside on your own or with friends or your kids, but there are also guided forest bathing tours offered. As this theme is just about to become more popular, there are just a few sources out there yet. But we are born from nature, we know how to spend time in it, when we allow ourselves to. When we resist the urge to have a plan or a schedule, when we simply allow ourselves to explore nature, naturally. Better than any guide, are kids. Of course, can guides can guide you through a meditation or other very helpful and amazing exercises. But kids do all of it intuitively. They are fully present in the moment. They find magic in a simply leaf or a piece of wood or mud or a little bug. They are astonished by the sparkle of the water when the sun shines on it. They hear the tiniest noise, they touch everything – they go all in. They work with all their senses and are curious and completely connect with nature. Feel free to dive deeper in the topic, get the books, read the science behind it, look for your forest bathing guide in your city. Simply give it a try!
Here are a few suggestions for your forest bath experience. But again, be creative and feel free to follow your natural instincts and change the exercises into whatever feels best for you. Those are simply suggestions, there is no wrong or right.
– Make sure the you dress appropriate for the weather
– Brings enough water and snacks or a picnic
– The route should be not too exhausting, this is not about getting in a workout or a challenging hike, it is about spending some mindful time in nature
FOREST BATHING EXERCISES
– Barefoot grounding: Find a place where you can take of your shoes and walk around with bare feet. Take slow steps, feel the ground under your feet. Then stand tall, look around you, gaze into the distance, then close your eyes. Again feel the ground under your feet and imagine roots are growing in the ground from your feet. The roots grow deep, deep into the ground. Imagine that you get all the nutrients your body need through earth itself. Your body gets all nutrients from the source itself, through the roots your growing deep down into the earth. Feel the grounding, the strength, not even a hurricane could blow you away. Your roots will hold you. Take some deep breaths and stand there for as long as it feels right to you. Whenever you are ready open your eyes again.
– All senses: Remember to include all senses in your forest bath. Take time for each sense. It doesn’t matter with which one you start with. Listen, listen to the tiniest sounds, what can you hear the more you listen? Smell, what do you smell as you just walk around? Or smell on a tree, a flower, the grass… Feel the temperature, the surface… Touch trees, stones, mud, grass whatever you can touch (just know what you touch, there are also things in nature you better not touch because they are poisonous). Taste – this works best in the summer time when berries are growing but there are also certain herbs one can eat. Be very, very sure that you know what you are eating! Again, there are plants which are poison for us. But when you know what you do, let’s say you find wild strawberries, taste them as mindfully as you can. Eat this strawberry as slowly as you can and really taste it. Look around. Look into the distance or take a closer look to tiny little things on the ground. How many different shades of green or brown or gray can you see?
– Crystal grid: Collect stones, leaves or whatever you can find or also bring your own crystals and create a grid. It is like drawing a mandala. Create any form that feel right to you. Here is no wrong or right, it is really just being creative and creating something out of nature. Or built a little house with the things or in the winter a snowman. This is one of the things were kids are our greatest teachers.
– Healing tree: Lean against a tree, hug it, sit next to it, talk to it. This is the stereotype kind of thing people love to make fun of, I used to too. But when it comes to the healing properties, trees are very powerful healers. Just look out for a tree that you like and go over. You don’t have to talk to it or hug it, but you can. Sometimes it is great to talk to “someone” who is simply listening, and trees are great listeners, just like animals. On my different routes I have different trees that I love to visit every time I’m there. It fascinates me that some of them have been here much longer than we have, centuries even. Imagine how many people walked by and what the trees witnessed.
– Mediation: If you have a meditation practice, nature is a great location. As we are out in nature I love this mediation: Inhale for four counts, hold the breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, hold the breath for four counts and inhale again for four counts. During each round focus on one element, so air, fire, water, earth. Air, feel the find blowing through your hair, or simply focus on the cool air that goes into your nose and how it is warmer as you exhale. Fire, feel the sunshine or simply your body temperature. Water, focus on the rain, the river, or your blood or saliva. Earth, feel the ground underneath you, feel how it holds you safely.
Those are just a few suggestions as I said. There are no limits and no rules but to be safe and letting go of any “to dos”. Just open yourself to the healing properties of nature. You can also simply walk through, sit there, and not do any exercise. There are absolutely no rules for what you do or don’t do.
Forest bathing is completely natural, it doesn’t cost anything and the effects are amazing. And remember: Once a week or 2-3 days a month have a positive effect on your entire month.