The Japanese call it “Shinrin Yoku” or “Forest Bathing.” Fast becoming one of the hottest new trends in healthcare, it’s a natural lifestyle fit for us in the Pacific NW. Transcendency awaits in a forest near you.
Forest Bathing is exactly what it sounds like – immersing yourself in the sensory experience of the forest, emerging renewed. Like bathing, you melt into the experience and let it cleanse you. The practice of forest bathing began a quarter century ago in Japan, a country that has always respected Nature. Since founding forest bathing, they’ve adopted it in a big way. They’ve even certified forests, after conducting scientific tests about health benefits of specific locales. Today, more than 60 certified forests exist throughout Japan.
The basic concept is not just relegated to the Japanese. The Germans have a similar word, “waldeinsamkeit” meaning “the feeling of being alone in the forest.” In early Medieval times, King Arthur’s knights were said to purify themselves in the forests of St. Nectan’s “Kieve” or “Basin.”
Forest bathing goes beyond basic exercise or nature walks. It’s about appreciating the forest mindfully. For example, feeling the bark or sitting under a specific tree such as pine or cedar to steep in its medicinal properties. So go ahead. Breathe in the phytochemicals of the trees. Taste the air, the pine needles. Listen to the silence, the crispness of the branches beneath you, the birds. See how the light plays. Komorebi is the Japanese word for sunlight filtering through the trees. Feel the texture of moss, the movement of the wind. Forest bathing is about feeling – not analyzing, not over-thinking. Sit silently or practice a yogic pose like Mountain.
Allow the natural restorative powers of forest bathing to heal you. Forest bathing lowers stress, boosts the immune system, reduces blood pressure, improves mental outlook, helps focus and lightens burdens. Don’t try. Just dissolve, as if you were entering a warm bath.
Head out by yourself. Or, if you’d like company, check Meet Up for forest bathing outings in the Seattle area. This city is made for forest bathing. Within its borders are 300 parks, including numerous urban forests. Within easy driving distance outside the city, the rain forest awaits or mountain woods. If you are feeling ambitious, consider becoming a forest bathing guide, with certification from the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy.
To enhance your forest bathing experience, East West Books has several resources including Forest Bathing Retreat by Hannah Fries, Forest Bathing by Dr. Quing Li, Your Guide to Forest Bathing by M. Amos Clifford, The Japanese Art of Shinrin Yoku by Yoshifumi Miyazaki. Another recommended book is Deep Nature Play by Joseph Bharat Cornell.
Even if you can’t get away, notice the plants in your home. Buy a fragrant herb for your windowsill. Open the window and breathe in the rain, or smile in the sun. You’ve entered into the right spirit to practice shinrin yoku, wherever you are.
Deni Luna is a medium and intuitive counselor at East West Bookshop every Monday.