Shinrin yoku (森林浴) is just starting to become recognized outside of Japan but they have been studying and developing this concept since the 1980’s. Literally translated as “Forest Bathing,” it is sometimes considered a form of Nature Therapy, Garden Therapy, Forest Medicine etc.
I am not going to extol the pseudoscientific claims that are out there but simply stress that this is a great way to get back in balance and reset your clock. What their research has shown however is that taking in the forests can boost your immune system, reduces your cortisol levels (the stress inducing chemical), and has overall calming effects throughout the nervous system. Surrounding yourself in nature helps you get your physical, mental and spiritual self back in line. It also puts you in a mood that allows for more creativity to flow.
This can however be easier said than done for some people, depending on their living situations. At ShizenStyle we promote a harmony of modern and natural / urban and rural, so how do we fit a deep Forest Bath into our modern lifestyle? I have come up with a few ideas for 3 different situations in our lives when we can start to get closer to nature.
Camping- An easy answer is to go camping. This is the getaway many people look forward to once or a few times a year. Being able to totally leave the stresses of the job and everyday life behind and enjoy a new refreshing atmosphere. It’s a step outside of your everyday routine and into a tent or cabin in the woods.
There are so many activities you can do to pass the time on your trip like hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, sitting by the fire…But you can also do something a little different like plan a family or couple cooking time. Plan the recipe and do the shopping ahead of time, but get everyone involved in the whole process of starting the fire to preparing and cooking the food.
Another idea might be to take a few cameras on a specific hike and challenge everyone their with you to start to develop their own artistic eye and unique vision of seeing nature. Encourage everything from super close macro shots to wide-angle sweeping views. The main thing is to just enjoy yourself outdoors.
Roten-buro (Outside Hot Springs) – Although still not very common in North America, Japan has developed rituals for visiting onsen as a way of relaxing. Many of these onsen have what are called Roten-buro, or outside hot springs. We spent many vacations getting away to small hotels in the mountains with roten-buro, soaking in the hot mineral waters and enjoying the views of the cedar trees and mountain scenes. You are still connected to the building, most of the time, so you are not deep in the forest but you can still look around and let you mind wander in the surrounding nature. A few times we did come across some 100% natural hot springs along the sides of rivers, but these really have to be sought out.
There is one roten-buro outside of Himeji in western Japan called Hotel Koderasou that comes to mind because it is set deep in the middle of a bamboo forest. At nighttime they light up various tall bamboo and watching the bamboo leaves blow in the wind is an indescribably feeling.
Hotels in Nature – Staying at a hotel with beautiful nature views can also be a great trip to plan. Ocean or lake views may not have the same affect, but if you look a possible ski resort you are likely to find that they are often nestled in the mountains and valleys. This provides you with the perfect setting to go for strolls in the woods in their off seasons when there is no ski activity. Prices can also be cheaper in the warmer months. They often also may have a great hot tub, Jacuzzi, or sauna that can add more relaxing benefits to the trip.
These kinds of deeper trips of Forest Bathing can definitely be fun and have great health benefits but when the trip is over it’s back to the usual grind. We need to find ways to bring these reset breaks into our daily lives to be most effective.
These getaways are not as elaborate of a setup as the hotel or camping trip but shorter Forest Bathing trips that can be done on the whim. I like to start by looking to see what seasonal activities might be going on. In the warmer months you might check to see what fruits are in season and plan a small drive out to go fruit picking. Usually the farms are near more wooded areas so you could even combine the two activities if there is a relaxing hiking course or park nearby.
Fall also brings some great maple leave viewing spots and possibly apple picking. Winter around us is pretty snow heavy but walking in an area with a lot of pine trees still gives you a grounding feel of greenery amongst the snow.
In spring things are really starting to come to life again and getting a head start on you garden is always a great idea. Working with nature and creating your own sanctuary garden could be part of the Shinrin-yoku that leads to a daily reflection.
Cherry blossom viewing in springtime is also something that is a huge part of Japanese culture. I encourage you to find that special tree when they are in bloom, but you have to look fast because they loose their blossoms very quickly. This is also a tree that symbolizes evanescence and how we need to cherish every moment we have because they are gone so quickly.
There are little things that you can do to try to take a step back for a moment and take a breath. If you are in the city try to take every opportunity to walk everywhere. Even from your house to the station you can feel the air on your skin and have a good look around. Maybe there is a park you could stroll through if you got off one stop closer of further from your regular route.
At lunchtime try to find a park or a green area to walk through and maybe sit for a moment. Even a lone tree can give you a bit of comfort and a break from the office routine. If there is absolutely no escape from the concrete during the day then make a point to find some after work.
Make sure you turn your cell phones off, you shouldn’t allow any distractions. The goal is to just wander somewhat aimlessly. Without a set path you can let your mind just observe all of the little things that you see and feel. Do your best to defer judgment and just let things flow. This walk can be as short or as long as you want.
This should be a quiet walk. If you go with someone make it a point to refrain from getting into conversations. Your mere presence in nature is going to disturb the area, but your goal should just be to take notice of how your presence interacts with the natural surroundings.
Letting your mind go on auto-pilot for awhile is analytical break your body and mind needs to both heal and possibly connect a few dots that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. This is sort of like Mindfulness in that you let all of your daily drama go and just observe all of the sounds and sights surrounding you.
There is no destination per say, only a way of seeking clarity. Forest Bathing (ShinRin-Yoku) for your modern lifestyle should eventually be something you aim to experience everyday. With a little tweaking of our routines we can start to build our awareness and clarity that comes from nourishment by nature. Checkout ShizenStyle to learn other ways you can incorporate nature into your modern lifestyle and reach that refreshing balance with the world around us.
If you would like to explore more about the benefits of Forest Bathing then I recommend Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li from Tokyo. This is the definitive work on Forest Bathing that guides you through the art and practice of Shinrin Yoku and has all of the science and research to back it up.