What is it?
King of the Dirt.
By now, as you’re gazing into the screen reading this article and as I’m hunched over my desk chair writing it, chances are you may have heard about Forest Bathing.
I first heard about this a couple years ago, and my initial response was something along the lines of - ‘What?’. It seemed to me like another health trend, and a silly, puffed up way of saying ‘get outside and roll in the dirt’. Turns out, I was kind of right and kind of wrong.
I did some digging, and then went home and did some research into what this thing was all about.
‘Forest Bathing’, translated from the Japanese term, shinrin-yoku, is commonly referred to as forest therapy. It lies somewhere in between simply going for a stroll in the woods, and practicing meditation amongst the trees. At first, I figured I’d done that all my life. Maybe I’d never done it at all?
The Forest Bathing Nutshell
As it turns out, spending time in nature is really, really good for you. There are countless studies proving the mental and physical benefits that come from being out in the woods. The David Suzuki foundation has some awesome articles that collect and present much of the data together, give it a looksee here.
Here are just some of the ways being in nature is good for you:
- Less Stress
- Attention Fatigue
- Happy Hikers
- Be a kinder person
- Depression & Anxiety Fighter
- Better Vision
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Increased Creativity
- Meeting More Turtles
Nothing seems surprisingly new here, and humans have inherently known about these benefits for hundreds of years. Forest Bathing is like an intentional form of therapy-by-trees. It’s instructions really are rather simple. Head into the woods and find a spot off a trail. Then, be there.
Really be there.
Forest Bathing isn’t just about going on a hike. Hikes tend to have an outcome in mind, and while they are rich in wonder and adventure, there can tend to be a lack of timelessness in their essence. Gotta get on with it. I mean, trails are meant to be travelled.
Presence in the forest has no end in mind. Wherever you find yourself in a current moment, is exactly and entirely where you’re supposed to be. The invitation, then, is to take as much in as you can.
The whole shtick with Forest Bathing is a practice in engaging your sensory awareness of everything around you. Move slowly. Let your mind be still. You’ve got nowhere else to be but right here. There is no time limit.
Start off with your sense of sight. As a pre-practice, stand with your arms directly out in front of you. Gradually, spread them apart into the full length of your wingspan. Notice how far they get until they’re no longer in sight. As it turns out, we can actually take in a lot more of our visual field than we tend to acknowledge, which is all the more easy to forget when we’re focussed on a screen. Using that same scope of sight, take a look at your surroundings in your forest bath. Notice what you notice.
Next, give it a whiff. When I work with kids in nature and we come across a cool forest mystery or artifact, I always encourage them to use their nose as an exploratory tool. Did you know Red Fox pee kind of smells like curry? So, when something interesting catches your eye, head over and give it a smell. Really, smell it with every bit of nose you’ve got.
Now, listen. Listen to the birds. Listen to cracking twigs under your feet. Do you ever notice how you can’t hang on to a sound? They come in and out and you have no ability to control them. I’ve found sound to be an excellent meditative tool, as it’s typically always happening. Just, listen. Notice what you hear. See if you can distinguish different cadences in the sough.
Taste is a tricky one, and I’m not about to say you should go around tasting everything your eye catches in the woods. That could suck. But, within relative reason and if you know exactly what you're sticking your tongue on (and that it’s not poisonous), I say give things a taste. That’s all I’m going to say on that on.
Lastly, touch. Touch. Touch. Touch. Tactile senses are incredible, and we rarely give them the due respect they deserve. There are so many unbelievable sensations in the forest. Rough, smooth, wet, mushy, feathery. Whatever. My personal suggestion for touch, if you’re willing to get a little dirty, is to lay and the forest floor, pick up piles of whatever’s around you, and sprinkle them all over yourself. I often do this with pine needles (eyes closed), and it truly is one of my favourite joys in life. Otherwise, just touch things. Rub the bark, stick your hands in the mud, feel the wind on your face. Get after it.
In my opinion, Forest Bathing is awesome. I can be quick to rag on new trends and fads when they come up, especially if they’re things that have been around for a long time. In reality, if a new trend is one that gets people outside, connecting with nature and with themselves, then I’m a yes. Call it whatever you want, hashtag it, get a sticker, I don’t care. Just connect.
If you’re up for it and feel a little intimidated by such unstructured presence in the forest, there are a number of guides that lead beautiful forest therapy workshops. Check out the Association of Forest and Nature Therapy or Global Institute of Forest Therapy to find one near you.