The Healing Powers of Forest Bathing
The Healing Powers of Forest Bathing will Improve Your Life.
It’s summertime in the dense woods of western Pennsylvania. I begin cruising down this large uneven hill. I am dodging trees, thorns and other plant life. I take a leap and grab onto a vine, swing a few feet and then I jump. As I fly through the air, my 11 year old self imagines escaping a bad guy. I land at the side of a narrow creek. I am safe. I stop moving. I stand in silence and listen to the waterflow. I hear the bluebirds chirping and the soft wind careening through trees. The woods are empty of all humans, except the imaginary ones, and yet the woods are full of life. I peer into the water to look for wildlife, maybe I will see a salamander, tadpole, crawfish or if I am really lucky a turtle. Finding a turtle was pretty much the ultimate experience in the woods. I am here, present in nature. Aware of all that surrounds me, purposefully taking in the sights and sounds. Silent and not moving. No real destination. Just me being mindful of my surroundings and focused on the now.
Since that moment in the woods I’ve experienced countless similar moments in nature. I make an active effort to practice forest bathing — a form of mindfulness in nature. Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku arose from Japan with the purpose of mindfully reconnecting with nature. The goal is to immerse your senses into the natural world in a mindful way in hopes of achieving better physical and mental health and a greater connection and respect for nature.
For those that don’t know, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” according to mindfulness practitioner and instructor Jon Kabat-Zinn. I used to read Kabat-Zinn’s works when my life felt like a mess. The dude made some waves by bringing mindfulness into medicine. Listening to him talk so calmly and steadily about the benefits and practices of using mindfulness for stress reduction and parenting brought calmness and even a bit of confidence to my chaotic life. I always wondered if he ever snapped and lost his shit. People that calm kind of freak me out.
The benefits of forest bathing
Forest bathing has notable benefits. Medical researchers found that those practicing forest bathing have received the benefits of increased immunity and reported being happier. Similarly, additional research compared city walking to forest walking and found that even though both activities exerted the same efforts, those in the forest achieved more significant reductions in blood pressure and stress hormones than those waltzing through the city. So apparently, walks in nature carry more benefits. Essentially, there’s a lot of claimed benefits from practicing forecast bathing and these include clarity of mind, learning to live in the present moment, learning the skills of non-reaction to stress, reconnecting with the natural world and more. This is a great practice for those struggling with anxiety.
How to practice forest bathing
You can practice forest bathing today. Here’s how:
- Drop the distractions. Head to the outdoors and find a place where crowds are minimal. Turn off your phone, laptop and any other distractions.
- Begin to wander. This isn’t a hike so begin to explore without the goal of a specific destination or getting a workout. Slow down in order to observe more as you wander.
- Take long meditative breaths. You know the kind of breaths that go deep into the abdomen. Exhale twice the length of the inhalation.
- Take in your surroundings using all of your senses. For instance, how does the natural environment make you feel? Be observant and look at nature’s beautiful details. Can you smell the cedar or citrus scents? As you gently glide your hand over a tree, how does the bark feel? Do you see the colors of green more deeply? Do you see wildlife? How does the surrounding plant life move? Walk slowly and try to keep your eyes open because the colours of nature are soothing and studies have shown that people relax best while seeing greens and blues.
- Practice for at least ten minutes. Some recommend practicing forest bathing for two hours. My practices are often shorter and I find the same benefits without having to complete any sort of expected time. It’s all relative and up to you.
In my own life I’ve found numerous benefits from practicing forest bathing including a significant reduction in stress, the ability to ground myself in the present instead of focusing on the past or worrying about the future. Instead of panicking about my health, responsibilities or even worse, my daughters bringing home some losers for boyfriends, I now find more success focusing on the present moment. I also find myself more connected with the natural world. I love this last one. I love the outdoors and I crave heading to various spots in the mojave desert or wandering mountains without a trail in mind. It’s just so peaceful and I feel so productive, because I know I’ve helped myself by healing my mind and reconnecting with the natural world.
So what do you think? Is the transformative practice of forest bathing something worth incorporating in your life?
And just so you know, I recently published The Medicinal Power of Camping Alone by Scott Carnahan. Scott is a director, producer, artist, photographer, dreamer, roamer, writer, storyteller and more and he presents his very true and transformative story of healing through the practice of camping alone.