Forest Bathing: Relax and Live a Little Longer
Up in the mountains here in New Zealand, we have such a breathtaking playground to call our backyard. Mountains bursting from huge bright blue glacial lakes, covered in native beech forest, (and invasive Canadian pines) and carved by rain, snow and ice over millions of years. My favourite haunt? Among the trees…
A practice that’s really stood out for me over the past year in New Zealand is Forest Bathing.
“What bathing” you say?
“Forest” I say… like trees and stuff.
Yep, it’s a thing. Simply being in a forest, not doing much other than soaking up the fresh air, immersing yourself in nature and lowering your heart rate...
How does this differ from hiking or taking a walk? Well that’s what I’m here to explain…
In the 80s, Japan was apparently quite a stressful place to be, so much so the health authorities put their heads together to try and calm down the nation’s pulse. They coined Shinrin-yoku: the simple activity of immersing oneself in the forest; forming a relationship with nature and befriending the trees.
Now this is of course not something us humans just figured out in the 80s; being among the trees for the benefit of our physical and mental health is as ancient as we are. But for health professionals to actually prescribe this to patients? That’s something that here in the West we’re still quite far behind (though we’re catching up - GPs in Scotland have begun prescribing walks).
Studies show that simply being in a forest promotes lower concentrations of cortisol (the stress hormone), lowers our pulse rate, lowers blood pressure, increases parasympathetic nerve activity and lowers sympathetic nerve activity. What have we got to loose?
“Forest Bathing is not the same thing as hiking. The destination in forest bathing is “here” not “there”. The pace is slow. The focus is on connection and relationship. To bathe in the forest is to be immersed in a grace that permeates the world, to feel an immanent power and beauty that is everywhere, whispering.” - Amos Clifford author of Your guide to Forest Bathing
Forest Bathing Practice:
Firstly, get yourself outside, surrounded by trees. If you like, it’s nice to remove your shoes.
Squat down and plant your hands on the ground. Close your eyes and feel your connection with the earth. Reach your fingertips into the dirt and leaves. Notice the feeling of the world on your skin. There’s up to 100kms of mycelium (fungi) underneath each footstep! That’s incredible.
Now come to stand, keeping your eyes closed, and feel the air on your skin; the temperature of the atmosphere, the breeze interacting with and dancing over your skin.
Open your mouth, breath in and taste the space around you. The freshly minted oxygen that heightens our moods, and benefits our hearts, our immune systems and our minds. Notice how you’re inhaling the exhalations of the trees and plants, and they’re inhaling the exhalations of each of us. This reciprocal relationship benefiting us all.
Use your nose to breathe in deeply, and smell the natural aromas of the forest. What can you smell?
Listen. What’s the closest sound you can hear? The nearest bird or rustling of leaves?… Now what’s the furthest thing you can hear? What else is there?
Now open your eyes… if you’re with friends, begin a 30 minutes silent period, simply be in the forest and wander slowly around the surrounding area.
Observe everything you see. Pick a point and focus on it. There’s so much complexity in front of you, there’s life everywhere… Simply watch what is in motion whilst allowing the mind and body to relax.
If you have time, continue to explore, touch, taste, feel and smell the environment. Perhaps find a space to sit and observe the simple motions of the forest. Give the attention to your senses and turn down your inner volume.
If you’re with friends or family, perhaps share about your experience before returning to the bustle of the society.
“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean… You are not a stranger here.” - Alan Watts