Have you heard of "forest-bathing"?
“Forest bathing” is one of those direct translations from another language that sounds a bit off, but you sort of know what it’s getting at.
It refers to a Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku, and it has similarities to the conventional wisdom that spending time in nature can be healthy and healing.
But “bathing” does imply something a bit different. It connotes both soaking and cleansing: opening up your senses to your surroundings, and becoming clearer and less cluttered in the process.
Experts are careful to draw the distinction between forest bathing and your average nature walk. While walking has been shown to have numerous health benefits, particularly as we age, forest bathing isn’t about the walking part, or the exercise. It doesn’t require movement, and in fact is often better done from the comfort of a bench.
It’s about the senses: the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feeling of light wind and fresh air. The senses are about the body and our presence in it: our minds quieting down, and our consciousness expanding to include the natural world which we so often tune out.
The Japanese are known for having a certain elegance in their spiritual and cultural practices. Tokyo is spick and span, and even before COVID, it was customary to leave fellow pedestrians plenty of space on the sidewalk: none of the pushing and shoving common in other large cities like Beijing and New York. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and other calming cultural practices with Eastern roots are growing popular in America hundreds of years after they were adopted in Japan. Forest bathing is among the many practices that some may dismiss as dilly-dallying or woo-woo here in the States but has long been shown to offer profound wellness benefits to its practitioners.
Only if it’s practiced in the true spirit of shinrin-yoku, however. Sitting in the woods and letting the mind wander back to the bills on the counter is really not the idea, and is likely to yield little more than an antsiness to get home. Gently bringing one’s attention back to the five senses and the forest surroundings—and thus, truly “bathing” in it—is essential to the experience.
As leaves change in many parts of the world, forests may be at the peak of their soothing potential. “Leaf-peeping,” while different in its focus, is already a popularized fall activity in places with colorful fall foliage; keeping one’s attention on the sights and sounds of the forest seems particularly appealing when these sights are so eye-catching.
Winter, on the other hand, can be a dangerous time to venture outside—particularly for those getting older and beginning to experience challenges with balance. Getting outside as much as possible before icy sidewalks pose fall risks is not a bad idea.
With the stresses of the pandemic continuing to persist, and fall foliage at its peak, now is the perfect time to try this soothing Japanese practice.