Anxiety and stress can be fought in many ways. One can choose to go in for sports, meditate, take medicine, get a pet, play with children, listen to music, go hiking, go for a walk, watch a movie…
One of the ways to take care of your mental well being is Forest Bathing. Doctors in Japan even prescribe it to their patients.
Roots of Forest Bathing
Forest Bathing or shinrin-yoku was introduced in the 1980s by the Government of Japan as a means to reduce stress and anxiety in society due to the boosting usage of informational technologies in everyday life. It became hard for people to cope with stress and relax living intensive city life with increasing working hours, polluted air, and little greenery around them. Therefore Forest Bathing was even included in the national preventive health program.
Researches show that being in the forest reduces stress hormone level which leads to lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, and strengthened immune system.
In Japan, medical experts evaluate forests for their relaxation and healing effects and certify them as suitable for forest bathing where visitors can get the most benefits for their mental and physical health.
As a part of Japanese medicine, Forest Bathing has similar effects on mental and physical health as other Japanese practices – meditation and mindfulness. Being in the forest you instinctively calm down your thoughts, focus on the nature around you, and enjoy the moment. It’s like a mindful meditation using all your senses.
How to Bath in the Forest?
To feel the healing power of nature you should go there alone or agree with your companion to be silent on your journey – be together but on your own at the same time. You should leave all the devices at home and create an undistracted sensory and mindful experience. You can choose the form of the journey to the forest from hiking, climbing, jogging, cycling to Nordic walking… or simply sitting on the rock.
Try to focus on a surrounding – listen to the sounds of wind touching the leaves, the birds singing, the trees swinging. Touch the bark of the trees, the moss, the leaves. Take a deep breath and try to figure out what do you smell – is it a damp soil, moss, or flowers? Look up, observe the different shades of green, the strays of sun streaming through the leaves.
Let the silence and stillness inside. If you still feel overwhelmed by thoughts try to choose and focus on one thing that worries you. Try to look at it as if it is not your own story – as you are watching a movie or as if you are telling a story which has happened in the past and think of different possible endings – funny, absurd, or dramatic ones.
Distance yourself from the anxiety. Visualize that you are wiping a whiteboard and deleting the written statement with thoughts that worry you from it. Try to get your attention to the nature around you. Keep breathing and visualize how stillness is pouring upon you.
The power of nature
Simple being in the forest has a therapeutic effect already. Without any special meditation or relaxation techniques, you become refreshed, rejuvenated, regain your self-esteem and joy of life just by solely taking a walk in the greenery of trees. This practice may be described by another wonderful expression of the Japanese language – kachou fuugetsu, which means experience the beauty of nature, and in doing so learn about yourself.
For a change to your usual walk in the forest or park, immerse yourself into a recreational trip and try to consciously notice the forms of trees, listen to the sounds of murmuring leaves and forget about time, destination and even turn from your usual path if you have any. And see what new sensations the same forest or park can award you with.
Conscious infusion into the world of the forest has healing powers. And the most important thing as always – is your attitude and mindset. If you choose to feel and experience the beauty of nature, you will calm down, refresh your mind, see things in a more simple way, and will come up with solutions to your problems or new ideas and be happier in general.
Forest Bathing with children
But, if you have very few moments to go to the forest alone and you go there with your children and your little companions are not agreeable on being silent, it can still be a wonderful way to relax, to refresh yourself, to have a connecting time with your little ones and show them the meaningful walking in the forest.
Children are always very curious and excited about various unusual and unexpected activities. And if you will invite them to turn from the main path and to listen to the sounds and ask them to name what they can hear, then ask to close their eyes and take a deep breath and ask them to tell what separate smells are there in the air that they can recognize. They will always gladly touch the different soft and rough surfaces and will go on for showing you something more to touch and to explore.
You can tell them the theory about getting good vibes and energy from the trees by holding them. You can hold trees of different shapes and sizes and imagine what different energy they provide you with.
Don’t forget to laugh and don’t worry if you all get dirty and wet. In exchange you will receive unforgettable experience and memories your little ones will talk about for a long time and will be eager to invite you to such bathing journeys more often.
Nex time you can get some “specimens” from the forest and create interesting paintings or a mini forest layout at home. Or you can think of theme walks by learning the names of the trees, flowers, plants, birds met on the way. There are various useful apps created which will assist you in this knowledgeable excursion (this is the only excuse to take your smartphone to the forest).
Once your children got used to using senses in the mindful walk, you can agree to go for short silence and meditation sessions while being there and get closer to the concept of Forest Bathing.
Include Forest in your routine
Whether alone or with the company, whether silent or talking your hearts out, whether jogging or sitting on the fallen tree – either way being in the forest or nature is calming and energizing at the same time. Use it as often as you have a chance to.
The vibrant world of nature is always there for us, offering it’s healing powers whenever we need it. We can become better versions of ourselves by being harmonious and calm inside. We can become better parents, better colleagues, better children, and better humans by immersing ourselves into the mindful journey to the kingdom of nature.