We often find ourselves caught up in the constructs of society, facing stressful situations, getting lost in digital media and chasing the practicalities of our day-to-day lives. These activities bring fulfillment in their own ways, but often trap our attention away from our Selves and from the natural world. The average American spends 93% of their time indoors, isolated from fresh air. Spending too long divorced from nature often leads to stress, depression, and various health problems.
With all the distractions surrounding us and demanding our attention, we find few opportunities for self-reflection and personal space to recharge and simply exist. Caught up in the metaphorical forest of city living, it’s hard to remember the figurative and literal trees. As organic creatures operating in a mechanical world, our physical and mental selves can become depleted in the abyss of the urban jungle.
The Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or “Forest Bathing,” proposes a treatment: getting back in touch with nature. When the Self is cluttered with the hodgepodge of human emotions and societal concerns, a retreat to the natural world allows us to ease our minds and surround our senses with a forest atmosphere. Within the woods, we can bask in feeling of fresh air, the sounds of rustling leaves, the visual effects of dappled sunlight and dancing trees.
Exposure to natural environments can act as a form of therapy, reducing stress and rejuvenating the mind, body, and soul. Beyond the physical movement of walking, immersing oneself in nature away from manmade structures frees the spirit to relax, reflect, and recharge.
HOW IT WORKS
So, how does one go about Forest Bathing?
It starts off simply enough: enter a forest! Depending on your location, you may not have access to large stretches of natural land. Don’t worry about the scale of your nature if you have limited options. Do what you can with what is available. Instead, focus on finding a place in which you are mostly, if not entirely, surrounded by trees and natural entities.
If you brought your phone with you, turn it off, or at minimum place it on airplane mode. You don’t want to be interrupted. Don’t worry about taking photos—this experience is for you, and cameras or social media will only distract. Pause the streaming playlists for a bit, and let the music of the forest take over. Be sure you have some time without any appointments or scheduled interruptions, so you don’t feel a need to rush.
Now, take a deep breath, and walk in whatever direction feels right. There is no need to have a destination in mind. Instead, try to walk aimlessly, allowing your senses to lead you without a pre-determined direction (though, if you are in a larger hiking area, keep note of the trails so you don’t get lost!) Listen to your body. Follow your nose, ears, eyes, mouth, hands, and feet. Take your time, and follow your instincts.
Observe without obligation. If you want to touch a tree trunk, then go for it. Taste the freshness of the air. Dip your fingers into a stream and let the sunshine wash over you. Listen to the birds singing and the leaves fluttering. Release your senses and feel oneness with the forest’s sensory symphony. Each person has their own intuitions for nature bathing, and there is no single solution for all. Do whatever feels right to your personal nature, prioritizing being at peace with your own state of mind. Feel free to add layers to your forest baths—stretching, picnicking, mediating, deep breathing exercises.
“If you walk into a forest – you hear all kinds of subtle sounds – but underneath there is an all pervasive silence.”Eckhart Tolle
Pause where it feels right, and breathe in deeply to accumulate phytoncides, natural aromatic compounds of the plants that improve immunity. Studies have shown that even just two days of forest walks in a row can increase white blood cell activity by 56%, keeping levels 23% higher for the month following those walks.
The most important thing to remember is that nature does not hurry, and neither should you. Don’t worry about the pace of city living or your external obligations. Intentionally slow down, soak in the physical world, and get back in touch with your natural Self. Our human bodies were adapted to live in the natural world, and sensory deprivation represses the healthy state of mind.
We spend so much of our time indoors, tethered to devices, consuming digital multimedia breathing recycled air. When you leave the forest, you will return to that busy world. For the time that you are able to explore nature, try to ignore the urge to check Instagram, or your email, or your texts. Take a break from all the noise, and focus on your surroundings. The Internet will still be there when you return.