What is Shinrin-yoku?
Shinrin-yoku is a relatively new health philosophy developed in the 1980’s in Japan. The term Shinrin-yoku means “Forest Bathing” and it promotes the restorative effects of spending time in a living forest. Whilst the term may be new, the concept of getting back to nature is as old as the hills (or trees !). People have recognised the calming effects of getting out of the bustling city and into nature since cities were first built. Originally it may have been to get away from the smog and pollution of built up areas to the cleaner rural air. Today, there are sports and whole industries built around helping people experience the great outdoors. However some of these fast paced activities, such as skiing and cycling, and many of the gadgets we now associate with being essential to surviving a few hours in the wild, go against the philosophy of experiencing the restorative effects of nature.
Japan has adopted Shinrin-yoku to such an extent that there are now many accredited Shinrin-yoku forests in the country. People can visit areas of ancient forest and be taken on guided walks under the tree canopy. The term forest bathing beautifully describes the concept of “soaking” up the sights, sounds and smells of everything around you which means avoiding distractions such as mobiles phones and GPS.
When we are out in nature, we naturally feel calmer, more relaxed and our moods improve. Being under the forest canopy brings additional health benefits. These are now supported by a large body of research and the practise of Forest Bathing is growing throughout the world. The research suggests that being in nature can reduce stress and blood pressure as well as boost the immune system and aid recovery from illness. One study for example showed that taking two-hour walks in the woods over a two-day period exhibited a 50% increase in levels of natural killer cells – the body’s disease fighting agents.
Personally, I find walking outdoors in nature is one of the best ways to leave any worries behind. Walking through an ancient woodland is about as close as I come to feeling spiritual. Some trees have been here hundreds (in some cases thousands) of years before me and will last a lot longer. They are a solid, living part of the natural world supporting an abundance of wildlife as well as the human race.
Key Concepts of Shinrin-yoku:
Shinrin-yoku goes beyond just walking in the woods, it combines mindfulness and meditation. One should walk slowly through the forest, opening the senses and noticing each small detail. The practise includes:
- Immersion under the tree canopy
- Engaging all the senses to experience the surrounding nature
- Avoid distractions (technology, conversation etc.)
How to practise Shinrin-yoku:
You don’t have to visit Japan to experience the benefits of this well-being philosophy. Simply visit a forest or wooded area nearby and:
- Walk a little slower than usual and take notice of smaller details of the nature around you
- Avoid the distractions of mobile phones and talking for a while
- Listen to the sounds of nature around you; the burbling brook or the chirping of the birds in the trees
- Take the same walk at different times of the year and take note of the changing colours of the flora and fauna
- Sit in a quiet spot and breathe in the scents of the forest.
Ecotherapy – How being in contact with nature can improve our wellbeing.