The challenge: find some free time to try the Japanese forest practice of shinrin-yoku.
The forest can heal you. You’ve just got to get in touch with it, as the Japanese do.
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese practice that promotes walking in the forest as a way to improve your overall health. The term translates literally as ‘forest bathing’. It originated in the 1980s and is now becoming more and more famous all around the world.
What do the scientists say?
In recent years a lot of studies have been undertaken to analyze the physical and psychological effects of shinrin-yoku. Here are a few of the proven physical benefits:
- Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
- Boosts the immune system
- Reduces sleeplessness
… and the psychological ones:
- Reduces stress and depression
- Increases liveliness
- Increases concentration
What is actually behind the superpower of the forests?
There are two popular explanations as to why taking a walk in the forest has such a positive effect on our health. The first one attaches importance to phytoncides – antimicrobial volatile organic compounds that plants give off in order to prevent themselves from rotting or being eaten by insects or animals. By breathing in those compounds, according to the theory, we can reduce stress and achieve relaxation. The second explanation emphasizes the sense of awe people get from admiring the beauty of nature as a means of stress relief.
How to practice shinrin-yoku
It’s important to understand that shinrin-yoku is not a hike, nor a fitness exercise. The miles you walk and the time you spend don’t really matter. The key is to leave your cellphone and your problems at home and just wander through the woods. You have to engage four out of your five senses – sight, smell, hearing and touch – because it’s the combination of mindfulness and natural environment that gives shinrin-yoku its restorative powers.
The best alternative, of course, is to practice shinrin-yoku in an actual forest, but if you don’t have one nearby, you can always opt for a stroll in the park. Break up your walk every now and again by taking some time to simply stand and observe the nature around you. If you go with someone else, don’t chat all the way, but rather make an agreement to remain silent for as much time as possible.
Nowadays, a lot of shinrin-yoku experts organize guided forest walks offering you insights into the finer details of the practice. You can search for the one closest to your town, or maybe even plan your next trip around a shinrin-yoku destination.
Do it now!
- Turn off your phone right after reading this article.
- Put on your most comfortable shoes.
- Get to the nearest park or forest.
- Wander aimlessly.
- Take a break – just stand and observe.
- Now turn it into routine – when you’re finished put your next three ‘forest bathing’ sessions into your planner. (Do it now! You know you’ll forget if you leave it for later.)