How many times have you gone out walking only to find that you’ve somehow reached your destination while completely missing the journey? You hardly remember the walk itself because you were too immersed in thinking about trials and tribulations past or future. You missed the way the light played with the trees as they swayed in the wind, the birds singing as you passed them by, or that rich, earthy smell of an autumn afternoon. We go to parks to connect with nature, but many times it’s the last thing we do; we are usually too focused on the day’s happenings, yesterday’s issues, or tomorrow’s potential.
In Japan there is a concept called “shinrin-yoku,” roughly translated into English as “forest bathing,” with “shinrin” meaning forest and “yoku” meaning bath. The Washington Post describes the concept as follows:
“In an effort to combat our indoor epidemic and reap these health benefits, a growing number of Americans have become followers of a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku. Coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, the word literally translates to ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing,’ and refers to the process of soaking up the sights, smells, and sounds of a natural setting to promote physiological and psychological health.”
In a sense, it means maintaining an awareness of the present moment while walking in nature, refraining from thinking about work, home, problems, and goals. Enjoy what nature offers the senses: the sight of sunlight bouncing off and filtering through leaves, the smell of trees and grass, and the feeling of a gentle breeze against your skin.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Forest bathing is not a form of exercise like hiking or yoga—it is much closer to the practice of being mindful, while immersed in the experience of walking in the woods. To properly forest bathe, you just need to do a few simple things:
- Find a park or other natural area with plenty of trees and natural surroundings to walk through.
- Leave your phone in your car; if you can’t, at least silence it.
- Turn down your thoughts and internal dialog. The best way to do this is to be aware of things: the presence of plants and animals, the feeling of weather conditions, the smells and sounds all around you.
- Take in everything and notice as many details as you can.
You’ll want to engage all your senses while taking your bath, pay attention to as much as possible, and just be present, experiencing the moment and letting it move through you, relaxing yourself and clearing your mind of distractions, tensions, and worries. As with anything, through practice you can make the most of your nature excursions. In time, you’ll learn to let go of stress and anxiety, truly enjoy your forest bathing, and head home feeling every bit as refreshed as if you’d taken a real bath.