Alice Peck's The Green Cure details the many physical, mental and emotional-health benefits of spending time in nature, including Shinrin-yoku - or forest bathing - which shares a lot of the rewards that come with meditation, while getting us outdoors and in motion.
Forest bathing has an impact on even more than our mood: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and myriad other sources maintain that the simple act of intentional, attentive time with trees:
- Decreases fatigue;
- Has immune-system boosting, antiviral, and even anti-carcinogenic beneﬁ ts;
- Increases the ability to focus, even in children with attention-deﬁ cit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);
- Speeds up recovery from surgery or illness;
- Regulates the endocrine (hormonal) system;
- Lowers blood glucose, affecting obesity and diabetes;
- Enhances the ability to relax and get a better night’s sleep;
- Increases energy
So, how does one go about forest bathing?
1. You need only the most basic equipment: walking shoes and insect repellent. Leave your camera, your journal, and your guidebooks behind, and turn off your mobile devices. Forest bathing is about being, not analysing.
2. Find some trees. This can be a forest of ancient pine or a copse of paper birch, or, if you’re like me, a single silver maple in your backyard. Of course, spending more time with more trees is better, because the effect is multiplied—studies have shown that spending three days and two nights in a thickly wooded area will improve the function of the immune system for up to seven days—but do the best you can. A little forest bathing is better than none, and there are benefits to it even if you can’t take in a huge lungful of phytoncides.
Find somewhere to sit or lean, where you can be still for ten or twenty minutes or more without being in the way of bicycle traffic, ants, or poison ivy.
3. Now do just that — be still. Be aware of your breath, but don’t force it. Let the experience come to you, don’t analyse. See what you see, hear what you hear, smell what you smell, feel what you feel. Light through the leaves…skittering or birdsong… blossom or decay… calm or grounded…
4. As you walk home, check in with yourself. Do you notice any changes in your body? How about your state of mind? What can you take from your forest bathing experience back to your daily life? Do you feel more optimistic? More serene? How is that headache?
5. Repeat as often as possible, and pay attention to any improvement in your wellbeing. Try a new spot next time, or focus on another kind of tree, and note the difference. (Having said that, forest bathing with the same trees in the same spot will vary every time, depending on the season, the weather, the time of day, and what you bring to the experience.
To find out more about Shinrin-yoku and the healing benefits of nature, check out The Green Cure by Alice Peck. Get more great blog posts like this one – direct to your inbox – be sure to sign up to our mailing list here.