Heading out for a walk, I find myself drawn to a nearby lake and wooded area. This quiet path is a respite – from being indoors, technology and too much urbanization. As I tread further into the trees, I notice my body start to relax, my heart rate lower, and feelings of calm engulf me.
With modern day wellness practices consisting of 20-step skincare routines and shamanic rituals requiring witchy appendages such as sage sticks, crystals and feathers, a more antiquated and intentional wellness custom is forest bathing. Borrowed from the Japanese culture, shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” in its English translation, literally means to “take in the forest atmosphere”.
Developed in Japan in the 1980s (in theory, although practiced for centuries before), forest bathing has become a cornerstone of preventive healing in Japanese medicine. Scientific studies have proven that spending time under the canopy of a living forest has a direct effect on our health. As we begin to rely heavily on technology, an increasing number of us are beginning to feel disconnected – with each other, within ourselves, and with our purpose.
To help combat feelings of anxiety and depression, and to reignite our innate ability to look within for direction, forest bathing is a practice that embodies slow living in its entirety, helping us reclaim our inner sanctuaries while basking in the imperceptible glow of the forest.
The purpose with forest bathing is to simply be – this is not about hiking, jogging or exercising while under a tree cover, rather connecting ourselves fully with the woodland around us, remembering to be present and aware. In the West we often cloud over ancient practices by attaching what we think of as tangible benefit (for example, “power yoga”), however this actually derails us from the intended purpose. The goal with shinrin-yoku is to simply be, using our senses to guide us.
By engaging our senses and remaining fully present, we give ourselves agency to be submerged in the wonders of the forest. Leaving technology and electronics behind, the practice of forest bathing allows us to savour the smells, sights and sounds of the thicket. Use this time to bird-watch, observe woodland creatures at play, gaze at mushrooms, or find amazement in the variances of tree bark. Your walk should be silent, to encourage contemplation and immersion.
Benefits of forest bathing include a reduction of stress and blood pressure, a boost in immune function and energy, improvement in mood, as well as a kick-start to one’s creativity. By recalibrating our bodies, and undoing the tension we tend to harbour from the stresses of modern life, forest bathing is an accessible practice that provides far more benefit than we realize.
As creatures of nature who have lost their footing in concrete jungles, returning to revel in a woodlot is a ritual the ancestral genes in our body are yearning for, one that far outweighs face serums or #selfcaresunday posts on Instagram.