The art of forest bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses. All we have to do is accept the invitation… Mother Nature does the rest.
Shinrin Yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.
Shinrin in Japanese means « forest », and Yoku means « bath ». So Shinrin Yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses.
When people started to practise Shinrin Yoku, in the early 1980s, it was based only on common sense and the intuitive idea that being in the beautiful green forests would be good for us.
From a feeling to a science… there are now numerous studies and a huge mass of data on the impact of forest bathing on various aspects of human health.
It’s no surprise, given the country’s close bond with the natural world, in particular its forests and trees, that Japan is a leading player in research into nature therapies. Much of this work is backed by the Japanese government.
How does a Shinrin Yoku session take place ?
First, your guide will send you all the necessary information a few days before the session to allow you to prepare well and have the right equipment.
Then, on the day of the Shinrin Yoku session, your guide will welcome you to explain how the morning or day will run through and the different activities that will be offered to you such as :
- Leave No Trace and respect for the forest and natural environment ; you will find more information on the website « The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace ».
- Invitations such as connection to our multiple senses, breathing, contemplation, slowness, creativity, silence and listening the natural world, etc…
- Talking circles.
- The tea ceremony.
Our world, our planet Earth, is in continuous motion so a Shinrin Yoku session will always be different because our feelings, the weather, the season, the group of participants and especially the forest and its natural environment are also constantly changing.
Let yourself be guided and let go, enjoy the session !
Trust your senses
We are better than we think we are. Our sensory faculties are in no way inferior to those of many animals, they are simply adapted to our own needs. We are endowed with extraordinary sense organs which allow us to fully understand and taste our own environment.
True detectors of our environment, our senses allow us to structure our personal identity. It is through them that we represent our living environment. Each of us feels emotions associated with our senses and these forge our uniqueness.
- Sight : the colors have a psycho-emotional resonance ; the shapes and movement that nature offers us, also act on our mind ; look closely at the details of the leaves and bark ; look up through the canopy to the sky…
- Hearing : listening to the sounds of Nature allows us to develop attention and concentration… the birds, the breeze through the trees, the rustle of leaves underfoot.
- Touch : the touch relationship provides a form of comfort and security ; touch the trees with all their textures, feel the cool water of a stream, and when your bare feet touch the ground, you are receiving a dose of the earth’s powerful healing electrons ; and when we are electrically grounded, we are in harmony with nature… so, take your shoes off ! Have you ever skimmed your cheek with a leaf or a drop of water ?
- Smell : it directly stimulates the limbic part of our brain also called « the brain of emotions » ; smell is a door to our unconscious and our emotions, leaving great freedom to our imagination.
- Taste : it gives us the possibility of relating to our memory and our emotions ; food eaten outdoors really does taste better, so take a picnic and a flash of tea ; taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths… perception is closely linked to smell.
But also, equilibrioception, proprioception, nociception, thermoception, intuition, instinct, etc…
Nature feeds our senses and brings us joy. Immersed in the natural world, we can experience the miracle of life and connect to something larger than ourselves.
Nature takes our breath away and breathes new life into us.
Find a spot in the forest, or a green park, then you can sit and notice all the sensual pleasures of the forest :
- What do you feel when you hear the breeze in the trees and the songs of the birds ?
- What do you feel when you look at the trees around you ?
- What do you feel when you smell the forest fragrance ?
- What do you feel when the sun warms your face, or you lie on the ground ?
- What do you feel when you taste the fresh air ?
- What do you feel now ?
Why a gentle walk ?
The practice of Shinrin Yoku is based on walking through the forest at a gentle pace for two hours or more.
Keeping your phone switched off allows time to soak up the environment around you and come into the here and now… Only the present is real. That is why it is called « present » – a gift.
Focus on your feet as they come into contact with the ground. How do you feel as you walk ? See how quietly you can walk, so that you can notice as many of the details around you as possible.
Allow your awareness to move up through every part of your body, noticing the sensations as you walk… « Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet » – Thich Nhat Hanh
Go too fast and you might miss the way !
Enjoy the opportunity to slow down and just be with nature for a while.
Why walk in silence ?
It is difficult to find peace and quiet in today’s world. Can you remember the last time you heard… nothing ?
Natural silence has been called one of the most endangered resources on the planet.
Of course, silence in nature does not always mean total quiet. When you are free from human noise you have an opportunity to listen to the sounds that only nature provides. Being still and quiet, we can hear the sound of silence and begin to relax.
Findings presented at the Acoustical Society of America in 2015 showed that listening to the sounds of nature not only helps us to be more productive but also makes us feel more positive about our environment.
The « one-square-inch » project has made a recording of the natural silence in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park, which is one of the most pristine, untouched, and ecologically diverse environments in the United States… see « Blog/The Resources/Websites ».
Silence is a part of our human nature, which can no longer be heard by most people.
Color therapy has been known for a long time. Our cells, made up of atoms, enter into vibrational resonance with these light frequencies and find real harmony. Our body conveys the beneficial properties of each color by their simple irradiation.
In Nature, we can expose ourselves to :
- Brown, the color of the earth par excellence, is a soft, reassuring and almost maternal color.
- Green, the color of nature, of plants, is a general rebalancing.
- Red which is stimulating.
- Yellow, like the sun, is an exciting and motivating color, almost an antidepressant !
- Blue is often people’s favorite color, and for good reason, it is the most relaxing and calming.
- Orange which represents movement, pleasure, play, celebration, desire and passion.
- Beige, like sand, is the color of purity and simplicity, but also fullfilment or tranquillity.
- And many others…
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony
Shinrin Yoku walks often end with a drink of tea brewed from roots, leaves, flowers or bark of the trees and plants in the forest… this is a lovely final ritual, a way of incorporating the forest, and the medicinal properties, too.
The four principles of tea ceremony are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. These are also profound rules for life, reminding us to live fully with our hearts and minds, to enjoy the simplicity and elegance of the natural world, and to be prepared, thoughtful and kind.
The tea ceremony closes a Shinrin Yoku session by thanking the forest for its welcome and kindness.
What if you don’t live near a forest ?
The importance of trees in the city for public health has been recognized at least since Cyrus the Great planted his famous royal garden in the crowded capital of the Persian empire two and a half thousand years ago.
Many of our great cities have a wonderful parks and gardens, and some even have wild areas and woods. Trees in the city are just as important for our health as trees in the countryside. Trees, of course, play a vital part in keeping our cities clean.
Leave your cup of coffee and your phone behind and just walk slowly or find a spot to sit, forget about the time… notice what you can hear, see, feel… come into the present moment.
Other complementary activities at Shinrin Yoku
- T’ai chi
- Qi Gong
- Deep Time Walk
- Walk mindfully
- Breathing exercices
- Flora and fauna observation