“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life” – John Muir
With ever increasing numbers of the world’s population living in cities, people are having to adjust to the continual growth of urban environments and limited outdoor space. Corresponding evidence also highlights these un-natural surroundings are stressors to those who live there. Add to that a generation addicted to an online world, a penchant for excess and consumerism, and a disregard for the environmental consequences, and we are left with a large proportions of the population who are disconnected from the natural world.
Shinrin Yoku or ‘forest bathing’ is the practise of re-engaging with the land by spending time in nature. One must ‘bathe’ the senses while gently walking, allowing the brain and body to separate itself from the demands of daily life. It is not a hike or a study, and should not be treated as such; it has to be approached as a restorative experience, with the purpose of enhancing both health and happiness.
The connection between the natural world and health was re-evaluated in 1980’s Japan as a response to mass urbanisation. The discovery that humans innately feel comfort when immersed in a natural setting, particularly forest, resulted in The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries applying more resources in facilitating this. The resulting forest paths or ‘therapy roads’ are more prescriptive than later Western interpretations, but still aim to produce the relaxing effects of nature defined as ‘shinrin yoku’.
Often the sensory immersion of Shinrin Yoku is combined with complementary practices such as mindfulness, meditation and spiritual attunement. By connecting deeply both physically and spiritually with nature, a new appreciation often emerges, with practitioners often cultivating a desire to both protect and encourage new growth; an important mindset in view of the current climate crisis.
The fundamental link between wellness and nature has routinely been reviewed, with more studies emerging to demonstrate the mechanisms behind the effects of Shinrin Yoku, and discover further benefits ‘forest bathing’ can offer.
Health benefits proven of Shinrin yoku and (the very similar) ‘Forest Therapy’ include;
• Boosted immune system (due to an increase of Natural Killer cells)
• Reduced blood pressure
• Reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol
• Improved mood
• Increased ability to focus, including in children with ADHD
• Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
• Higher energy levels
• Better sleep
The practise of Shinrin Yoku will also result in an increase of activity, vitamin D (from sunlight), and cleaner air to breathe; all of which contribute to improved overall health.
In thanks partly to global communication, the aforementioned benefits are becoming more widely known and acknowledged, with the practise of Shinrin Yoku and analogous forest therapy organisations expanding across the globe. This growth has resulted in many variations of forest bathing, and although core principles are preserved, local practice can differ in response to each country’s unique landscape and culture.
Here in Scotland, we have no shortage of magical landscapes in which to immerse ourselves. Take yourself up the craggy hills of Glencoe, traverse windswept moorland, stand in the spray of stormy Scottish waters or walk among the ancient pines of Aviemore. Take a couple of hours out of your hectic life, head somewhere green. Shinrin Yoku should affect all senses; sight, smell, taste, touch. Recognise your own unique self, and discover what works for you individually as a method to open both mind and body.
You may decide to take a walk. Sit under the branches of a tree and listen to the idyllic rush of a nearby river. Pay attention to sounds that are not crowds, or cars, or beeping phones.
If it seems unlikely that you will ever get round to doing this, purposefully make time by joining in therapy walks with likeminded individuals, or book a guided session to help you have time within the present moment.