Written by Jori Hamilton, Guest Writer
The average American spends over seven hours a day staring at a screen. Even if you make a solid effort to keep your phone away and avoid browsing online, it’s practically unavoidable. Not only can all that screen time make you feel a bit guilty, but it can contribute to serious issues, too – including vision problems and disruption to your circadian rhythms.
Additionally, we’re living in a society ripe with mental health issues. Across the globe, more than 264 million people struggle with depression. Millions more have anxiety. Needless to say, the general well-being of so many people is struggling. It doesn’t matter what it’s stemming from. What matters is, the mental health crisis in this country (and around the globe) is beyond pandemic levels.
As a result, millions of people are consistently looking for ways to treat their symptoms. The Japanese art of Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) might be an effective answer and something you can do on your own.
Multiple studies have shown the health benefits of spending time in nature, and forest bathing capitalizes on that, allowing for a fully immersive experience.
But, what is Shinrin-Yoku, and how can it help you reconnect with the Earth and feel more grounded? By diving into this practice, you can take advantage of it as often as needed and find more peace in letting go of life’s stressors in favor of the riches of nature.
What is Forest Bathing?
Even hearing the words “forest bathing” feels a little relaxing, doesn’t it? Picture yourself fully immersed in nature. No honking car horns. No chiming cell phones. No busy schedule to follow. For a while, you can let all of those things float away as you surround yourself with everything nature has to offer.
Forest bathing is simply the practice of slowing down and allowing yourself to become fully saturated by nature. It’s becoming more popular in the U.S., with the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy planning on training and certifying over 250 guides throughout the next year.
Guides are used to help you feel comfortable with Shinrin-Yoku if you’re trying it for the first time. During your forest bathing experience, you can expect things like:
- Going into a secluded wooded area
- Surrounding yourself with trees and plants
- Closing your eyes when you stop
- Taking a few deep breaths
- Clearing out the clutter from your mind
- Opening your eyes to a new appreciation for nature
If you’re intimidated about trying forest bathing for yourself, a guide is a great way to start. If you’re a bit more comfortable, make sure you know how wayfinding works and that you understand signage to avoid getting lost on your path. These are keys to any kind of travel, and that includes forest bathing.
How to Make Forest Bathing Work for You
Some people describe Shinrin-Yoku as a meditative experience. It combines meditative practices with mindfulness while harnessing the healing power of nature. There is no one “right” way to do it. But, if you’re just starting out and need some instruction, follow these steps to feel more comfortable and allow yourself to fully give in to the process:
- Turn off or silence your phone or any other electronic devices you have with you.
- Walk through the forest slowly and take in your surroundings.
- Stop frequently to stand or sit and look at your surroundings.
- Close your eyes and breathe from your abdomen.
- Use all of your senses.
- Mindfully observe as much as possible.
It’s a good idea to plan ahead when you’re considering a forest bathing adventure. Doing so will help you set aside specific time to get outside and appreciate your surroundings. Without planning, you might feel rushed or uncomfortable. You don’t have to cover every detail of what you want your experience to be. But, a basic outline will help.
Forest bathing is for everyone and can help people of all ages. If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or even just struggling with your energy levels, spending time outside and fully immersing yourself in the experience can make a big difference.
Even if you can’t regularly make your way out into the woods, you can carry elements of forest bathing with you every day. Try to get outside as often as possible. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, it can make a difference. Additionally, you can boost your mood indoors with houseplants. There are countless indoor plants to choose from for your office, living room, or even the bedroom. They can improve your mood, reduce stress, and even help you to breathe easier.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing
If you’re tired of dealing with mental health struggles, Shinrin-Yoku should be something you’re considering. You might already know about some of the health benefits of being outside, including a reduction in anxiety and stress.
But, forest bathing goes beyond that.
From a mental health standpoint, Shinrin-Yoku can reduce stress hormone production. It improves feelings of happiness and can even boost your creativity. If you’ve been stuck in a “rut” in your personal life or career, this practice can pull you out of it and help you feel inspired. Not only can that improve your work life, but it can strengthen your relationships and allow you to practice more gratitude for the things in your life. That can help to trigger a cycle of positivity since gratitude is a wonderful way to improve your well-being.
Even though we’re talking about forest bathing for mental health, it’s hard to ignore the physical benefits, too. It’s been known to boost the immune system and help people recover from illnesses faster. From a preventative standpoint, it lowers the heart rate and can reduce blood pressure levels. The better health you’re in physically, the less stress you’ll be putting on your body.
Forest bathing only originated in Japan in the 1980s. So, while the concept might not be centuries-old, it’s something that is continuing to become more popular for a reason. Whether your stress stems from screens, work, the state of society, or a combination of things, taking a break and spending time immersing yourself in nature can help. If you’ve been looking for a way to combat stress and feelings of depression or anxiety, consider Shinrin-Yoku.