The interest in the Japanese art of Shinrin Yoku is steadily growing worldwide. Shinrin translates to ‘forest’ and Yoku means ‘bathe’, translating to forest bathing, or sometimes translated as ‘taking in the atmosphere of the forest’
Shinrin Yoku became popular in Japan during the 1980’s following research conducted by the Japanese government in the physiological benefits of spending time in the forest. Many more scientific studies have since followed and it has now been proven that spending time amongst the natural elements of wooded areas impact blood pressure, pulse rate, heart rate variability, cortisol levels (one of our stress hormones). Spending time in woods can actually makes us calmer and less stressed.
Science has also shown that trees release certain chemicals called phytoncides into the atmosphere, which have an anti-microbial effect on the human body. These chemicals have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these same chemicals, the human body responds by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell, the same white blood cells that help protect us against tumour and virus infected cells. In short, phytoncides boost our own immune system.
To this day Japanese doctors still ‘prescribe’ Shinrin Yoku to their patients as a means of boosting their overall health.
We live in a world that is too rushed and exceptionally goal orientated. We can often find ourselves feeling over-worked, overwhelmed and regularly tired or fatigued. This of course can have a significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. If you are someone who finds the concept of attending a yoga class, or a meditation group as a means of managing your wellbeing just a little too daunting, why not have a go at forest bathing instead.
Here’s a beginners guide to Shinrin Yoku, to help you take those first mindful steps.
- Turn off all of your devices, including your phone. Shinrin Yoku can be seen as a form of mindfulness practise. In a world where we are constantly distracted by our phones, emails, texts and music devices, having a couple of hours of digital detoxing will actually do us the world of good.
- Slow down. Physically slowing the pace of our steps can in fact have quite a meditative effect. It enables everything else within us to slow down. Including our minds.
- Pay attention. Paying attention is part of any mindfulness practise. You could begin by paying attention to your breathing. Don’t try to change or alter it in any way, just become aware of your breathing as it is, as you walk slowly through the forest. Pay attention to how you feel either physically or emotionally. You can start by noticing the temperature of the air, do you feel hot, cool or just right? How does your body feel, do you feel energised, tired, relaxed or tense?
- Connect with your senses. Listen to the sounds of nature. Really connect with the sounds around you, the birds, the ground beneath your feet as you walk. Expand your hearing, ask yourself what can you hear when you do that? Take the time to really notice the scents around you. The smells of the trees, the earth, the air. Really immerse yourself with how nature is presenting itself to you. Don’t be too shy to stop and just close your eyes for a few moments to simply listen.
- Notice the small things. Just as we can expand our hearing outwards, we can also bring our attention inwards to notice the smallest details of our surroundings. The textures of the bark on the trees, the dew drops on the leaves, the multiple colours of the ferns. How the leaves and branches filter the sun onto the ground below them.
- Try to remain fully present with your experience of Shinrin Yoku as you walk or sit. It’s so easy to spend time in nature and instead of taking in our surroundings we become distracted by our thoughts. If you find your mind being dragged off by idle thinking, bring your attention back to your experience. Gently pull your awareness back to the sights, sounds and scents around you. This can have an instantly grounding, soothing and calming affect.
- Take your time. Research has shown the optimum length of time to practise forest bathing is about 2 hours, but much shorter experiences also bring great benefits. So even if you only have 30 minutes or so, you will still reap the awards.