Shinrin-Yoku: The Art of Ecotherapy
Amidst the unrelenting stream of negative news and events in 2020, the world is starting to feel like a real pressure cooker, or a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. With more people “stuck” at, or working from home nowadays, the outdoors and Mother Nature have never been more enticing than ever before. This has led to a recent resurgence of the Japanese practice of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, a form of ecotherapy which purports to help urban dwellers rekindle their connection with nature and immerse in its healing powers.
What is the shinrin-yoku?
Incepted in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as part of a national health programme to reduce stress in workers, the ritual of forest bathing doesn’t involve any actual bathing. Rather, it is a practice in mindfulness, inviting you to attune your five senses to “bath” yourself in the elements of the forest.
According to renowned forest bathing expert, Dr. Qing Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, and also the author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, simply strolling and relaxing among trees expose us to plant chemicals (phytoncides) which naturally boost our immune system, and increase our natural killer cells (NK), thereby enhancing our mood, and lowering our stress hormone levels.
How to do it?
It is easy to mistake forest bathing for a hiking trip, where you normally have a pre-planned route or destination in mind, and a schedule and checkpoints to adhere to. On the contrary, forest bathing involves exactly the opposite of having expectations and goals – you break free from the dreary routines and stresses of everyday life, and just immerse yourself in the natural surroundings and its panorama.
There isn’t a need for any aim or plans to get to somewhere within a specified timeframe. You simply leave your mobile phones behind and let your senses guide you through nature. As you savour the sights, smells and sounds of the lush greenery, you reconnect with its splendid beauty, forget all your worries from the urban jungle, and be lost in the moment.
What are the health benefits?
Research conducted by Dr. Qing Li shows that forest bathing can lead to better immunity, and its effects can last for up to 30 days after the activity. Moreover, the research also claims that forest bathing can significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate, thus helping you to ward off hypertension and heart diseases. Lastly, those who indulge in forest bathing regularly, reported lower anxiety and depression levels.
What if there are no forests near me?
It doesn’t matter where you are. The practice is a state of mind, and not a physical destination. In Dr. Qing Li’s words, “You can forest-bathe anywhere in the world – wherever there are trees; in hot weather or in cold; in rain, sunshine or snow. You don’t even need a forest. Once you have learned how to do it, you can do shinrin-yoku anywhere – in a nearby park or in your garden. Look for a place where there are trees, and off you go!”