Earth Day is approaching on April 22, which means this is a perfect time to become more one with nature and more at peace with yourself. To celebrate Earth Day, you can obviously plant a tree, work in your garden or volunteer to clean up a local community park – all wonderful experiences. But why not try something new, something slightly daring and definitely more mindful? Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing, where the focus is on being fully present in nature and connecting with nature in a mindful way through our senses, all while allowing you to slow down, de-stress, and unplug from a fast-paced world.
Although the practice of Forest Bathing and the healing powers of the outdoors are not new, the concept of Shinrin-yoku was made popular in recent years by forest medicine expert Dr. Qing Li of Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School.
Dr. Li suggests that there’s no one right way to practice Forest Bathing, but when you do, there are 3 key aspects to keep in mind:
3 Steps to Practice Forest Bathing
Leave technology behind. For many of us, this will be the most difficult aspect of the forest bathing practice. The idea is to untether yourself from anything distracting that isn’t found in nature so that you can truly experience a natural environment. However, if leaving your phone behind becomes a distraction itself – because the anxiety or fear of being alone or not being able to reach someone if needed – then by all means, bring your phone. Just be sure to turn the music and any notifications off temporarily and keep your phone in your pocket, or otherwise out of sight.
Find a quiet place to sit among the trees, on a bench or large rock along a forest path or in a relatively empty park or garden. I’m fortunate to not only live close to several forest preserves but also to the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden. These close-to-home nature spots have allowed me to wander and wonder for hours, just about any time of the year. But even if quiet, outdoor spaces are hard to find in your area, you can really practice Forest Bathing anywhere there are trees, even sitting on a chair or blanket in your own backyard.
Experience the outdoors through all of your senses. With the noise of technology turned off and the hustle and bustle of the big city behind you, it’s time to take in nature with your entire being. Smell the changing leaves or fragrant flowers in the air. Taste the fresh air or morning mist as it hits your face. Feel the sharp needles or rough bark of a tree, soft moss on a stump or the cold pebbles on the edge of a stream. Take in the surrounding sounds – small animals and birds rustling through the bushes, the crackling of tree limbs as they settle, or your own footsteps as they cross over a wood plank bridge. And finally, observe the beautiful stillness of life right before your eyes. For it is in this stillness where you can truly appreciate nature and become a more calm and centered individual.
If all of this mindfulness and stillness leaves you uneasy, Forest Bathing doesn’t have to require you sitting still. It can also involve doing an activity, such as walking, tai chi or yoga, or even painting. Experiencing the serenity of nature is different for everyone. And to ensure the full benefits of Shinrin-yoku, you need to find the experience that best works for you.
Happy Earth Day and Shinrin-yoku to all of you!