What is Shinrin-yoku? It is Japanese for forest bathing. Forest-bathing is the art of taking-in the natural healing properties of the forest and its trees.
A new word expression, it is the practice of absorbing the organic atmosphere that exists under the forest canopy. It was first conceived in Japan in the 1980s, and it is an important element in preventive healing and healthcare in Japanese medicine today. Researchers have accumulated an extensive and voluminous body of scientific literature, on the healing properties, accrued from time spent under the canopy of a living forest.
What are the Benefits of Shinrin-yoku?
A new system of healing the patient has evolved from this practice. It is called forest medicine. Forest Medicine, is the result of Forest Bathing.
Shinrin-yoku is proving that forest bathing can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, bolster the immune and cardiovascular systems, and give your energy levels a boost. It also purports to assist in creativity and concentration, uplift your mood, and help you to lose weight. All of this in an effort to add years to your life.
My First Forest Bath
A few days ago, I returned home, and to the civilized world, after spending three days under the forest canopy. To my sweet surprise, I was well-rested, and mentally and emotionally recharged. I was less stressed and in a very congenial frame of mind. I often return from these mountain experiences spiritually refreshed, but physically exhausted. This time my experience was very different.
To be more specific, I spent most of my three days forest-bathing in a vast grove of Western Hemlock.
The Western Hemlock, tsuga heterophylla, is one of the most common trees in the Pacific Northwest of North America.
It forms vast, dense groves in moist, acidic soils and is found in often impenetrable, pure stands on flats and on the terrain of the lower slopes. The largest hemlock, it has a long, slender, and often fluted trunk, and a narrow, conical crown of short, slender, horizontal or slightly drooping branches. It is an evergreen, growing to over 45 meters with a trunk diameter of up to 1.2 meters.
Its conservation status is of least concern, LC, and its populations are increasing.
As soon as I discovered this vast grove of hemlocks I was immediately coaxed into its vortex, and I could not leave its attractive nature. The very reason why I remained there for most of my three days.
I had experienced what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku.
Shinrin-yoku, the practice of forest-bathing is simply spending time bathing in the organic and natural atmosphere found under a forest canopy.
This was how I spent most of my trip that had first been intended to hike up the river to the alpine meadow, that lay at the end of it. My intention was to visit this alpine meadow and give my new hiking boots a good workout, in the process, but as it turned out, I completely forgot about my new boots until I got back to my truck.
I usually take my boots off a few times during the day, to let my feet breathe, and I often do this in ice-cold river waters whenever I can. This time, instead of soaking my tired feet into the river, I chose to walk the forest floor in my bare feet.
This, in my estimation, is what triggered my first forest bath. I had practiced shinrin-yoku, and this was the reason for my newfound state of mind.
This has produced a major turning point in my hiking career. It has caused me to slow down more and bathe in this organic atmosphere that dwells under the forest canopy.
My reasons for returning to Nature are always the same. The peace and solitude that can only be found there. At the end of the day, I will still be doing the same things more or less, but with some modifications. My thoughts and activities, now, will be working on a very different frequency. I believe it to be all part of the maturing process. Time, and my accumulated exposure to the natural world, brings a more profound degree of comfort and easiness when sojourning these majestic groves of forest giants.
Leave no Traces, Take Nothing but Memories
“We need the tonic of wildness … At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that the land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us.
We can never have enough of nature”. Henry David Thoreau
These words hold a very different meaning for me now. In the past, I focused more on the physical component of nothing left behind, but after this recent forest adventure, my attention will be more focused on the memories, and the medicinal benefits acquired from my forest adventures. I am always fascinated with the simplicity of new versions of old ideas.
Who, upon reading this, is not aware of the benefits of a pleasant walk in the forest. Henry David Thoreau wrote about it in Walden Pond.
How to Practice Forest Bathing
Here is an easy guide for you to follow, as you begin your first experiences with shinrin-yoku.
Touch and feel the tree bark, smell the aromas of the forest, listen to the sound of the wind, rustling through the leaves, and hear the music played by the raindrops as they fall on the leaves of the trees.
Leave your electronic gadgets at home, to better experience the healing properties under the forest canopy
Wander about aimlessly, let your body take you where it may.
Pause more often, learn to slow down, leave the rat race behind, stop to look at the leaves, look at one leaf, what can you see, smell the leaf, try to connect with the tree.
How does the Earth feel on your feet, walk the Earth in your bare feet, is it different? Does it slow you down more, can you feel your heart rate becoming more regular?
Can you hear your heartbeat?
Sit and listen to the sounds of the forest, what else can you hear, other than the birds.
Observe the mammals, and how their behaviour changes when your energy patterns change.
It is best to do this alone, or not too close to other humans, to better experience the healing medicine that dwells under the forest canopy.
What are your thoughts on Forest Bathing?
Are you an experienced outdoors person? Do you hike and camp in the forested environment?
Have you ever experienced these feelings of well-being and elation after spending time under a forest canopy?
This long list of positive health benefits attributed to Forest Bathing is related to scientific theory.
If you spend time in the forest, I would love to hear about your thoughts and feelings, after these experiences. You can Contact Me to share your moments under the forest canopy.