Have you heard about Forest bathing?
We all know how good being in nature can make us feel. We have known it for centuries. The sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air — these things give us a sense of comfort.
They ease our stress and worry, help us to relax and to think more clearly. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us.
The practice originated in Japan in the late 1980’s and is known as “Shinrin-yoku,” which roughly translated means “forest bathing” or if you prefer to use the Irish term for Forest Bathing, “Snámha Foraoise”.
This is not exercise, or hiking or jogging!
This is NOT exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
Never have we been so far from merging with the natural world and so divorced from nature. According to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors, and a similar study in Ireland reported the average Irish person spending over 80% of their time indoors. We should be alarmed!
But the good news is that even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact on our health. A two-hour forest bath will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you. Numerous scientific studies conducted on Forest Bathing have shown that Shinrin-yoku has real health benefits.
Forest bathing doesn’t have anything to do with soaping up, but it can provide relaxation just like your favorite bubble bath does. The practice has quickly been gaining popularity in many European countries and you can even find a Certified Forest Therapy Guide.
What does Forest Bathing Mean?
Forest bathing is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere.
“Trees release natural oils called phytoncides which are also hugely beneficial to the human immune system,” according to Dr Li author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. “Exposure to phytoncides increases your count of NK cells, which help to prevent diseases and reduces the production of stress hormones in your body.” In addition to stunning photographs of beautiful forests, the book introduces the concept of forest bathing, expanding on the art and science of how trees can potentially enrich our lives.
He also discovered that forest bathing can be helpful in the treatment of stress, becoming increasingly prevalent in our modern lives. “Soil contains a microbe called Mycobacterium vaccae, which we inhale when we spend time in the forest.
What Forest Bathing Is Not!
Most of us think of a sweaty hike when we think of a trip to the woods, racing past the beautiful surrounds. Forest bathing is set at a much slower pace and is focused on fully experiencing the nature around us. It isn’t about covering a set distance, raising your heart rate or even about the exercise.
How to Forest Bathe
First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone, camera and paraphernalia behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.
The aim of forest therapy is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. Lying on the ground, meditating, gathering forest edibles and noticing the foliage are some of the different ways you can forest bathe.
Remember Your Five Senses!
The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet.
- Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees.
- Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches.
- Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides.
- Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree.
- Dip your fingers or toes in a stream.
- Lie on the ground.
Drink in the flavour of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.
This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to your happy place!
Where can I Find My Happy Place?
When it comes to finding calm and relaxation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – it differs from person to person. It is important to find a place that suits you. If you love the smell of damp soil, you will be most relaxed where the natural landscape provides it. Then the effects of the forest will be more powerful.
Maybe you have a place in the countryside that reminds you of your childhood or of happy times in the past. These places will be special to you and your connection with them will be strong.
The good news is that forest bathing is a remarkably undemanding and inexpensive activity. It can be done at any time, in any weather condition and doesn’t require camping equipment or the physical endurance of a long hike (unless you want it to). You can enjoy forest bathing at your own pace, in your own style, at forests and parks nationwide.
You can forest-bathe anywhere in the world – wherever there are trees; in hot weather or in cold; in rain, sunshine or snow. You don’t even need a forest. Once you have learned how to do it, you can do your Snámha Foraoise anywhere – in a nearby park or in your garden. Look for a place where there are trees, and off you go!
At the center of your being you have the answer
you know who you are and you know what you want.
How Often Should You Forest Bathe?
Most of the studies showed benefits when participants went on forest bathing trips every one to four weeks. The more often you can go, the better. However, positive results were still seen even seven days after a forest bathing trip, and even as long as 30 days later.
Enhance the Experience with Earthing
Since the idea is to connect with the Earth, grounding or barefoot shoes help improve the experience. This also enhances your perception of the surroundings. Depending on the area you’re in and the exact circumstances, you can also kick your shoes off and go barefoot.
Electromagnetic exposure from wireless devices, cell phone towers, and other modern-day technology saturates our environments. Earthing and forest bathing gives us a way to reset our natural electromagnetic fields and center the body. Read more practical ways to reduce your EMF exposure here.
No Forest? No Problem!
If a whole forest isn’t available to you, then even standing underneath a single tree and inhaling deeply will benefit the body to some degree. Lay on a patch of healthy grass. Go to a nature park. There’s even some evidence to suggest that focusing on a picture of a forest may have some health benefits!
The rise of self-prescribed antidotes, from mindfulness to a multitude of yoga variations, are all further proof that people are now more open to and actively seeking ways to improve their health through wellness and natural therapies.
Spending time in nature is proven to help you relax, and in an age where stress is tantamount to an epidemic, this is invaluable. Many people spend workdays indoors under fluorescent lights, in front of computers, then return home to bask in the glow of television screens. Being outside can improve memory, fight stress and lower blood pressure. Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost. Something tells me your family doctor will soon be prescribing doses of time spent in natural environments and regular Snámha Foraoise!