You may have heard about forest bathing as the latest trend or craze, but you may be scratching your head thinking to yourself, what the heck is forest bathing? The term forest bathing, or forest therapy, is derived from the Japanese term shinrin-yoku (shinrin “forest” / yoku “bath”). Think of it as bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking the forest through our senses. This is not jogging, hiking, or exercising in the forest. It’s simply connecting with nature through our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
Forest bathing is not taking a hike in the woods
When you are hiking, you typically include a predefined route and typically require climbing various terrains. Forest bathing is meant for you to slow down and interact with the forest using all of your senses. Think of the saying, “stop and smell the roses”. When experiencing forest bathing, don’t start observing your surroundings in scientific terms by stopping to look up every tree, flora and fauna on your smartphone, but rather think of it as an invitation to interact with the forest in a more meaningful and healing way.
Pay attention to what’s in motion like the birds flying overhead. Close your eyes and take a deep breath of the surrounding air. Listening to the wind blowing around you and the sound of rustling leaves. Feel the different textures in the forest, the feeling of moss, tree bark, the soil on the ground.
Forest bathing can be both a deeply personal or shared experience
Forest bathing is often attributed to a form of meditation, a solitary experience, where it requires you to slow down and be in the moment. This is one form of experiencing forest bathing, where you are one with nature.
Sharing this experience with a small group also works, but it’s important to keep in mind that the group size should be small enough that there is a feeling of intimacy. I believe the energy of the group is just as important so that you don’t disrupt one another’s experience. If you can find the right size group with the right energy, forest bathing together could make for a much richer experience. This is because you are sharing what you see and hear with one another – think of it as a multi-dimensional experience where all five senses of the group are switched on.
Guided vs. independent forest bathing
You don’t need a guide to practise forest bathing, however, some people prefer a guided process as it helps control the pace and offers new ways of experiencing the forest. Some people are grateful that they had a guide to slow them down so that they can pay attention and experience the smallest of details.
Having a guide is similar to having a personal trainer at the gym. We sometimes have to make a commitment to other people in order to make a commitment to ourselves. Setting expectations with a coach or a guide means you will more likely commit and fulfill your end of the obligation as supposed to procrastinating and finding all the excuses to “kick the can down the road”.
How forest bathing sparks creativity
One of the key benefits of forest bathing is boosting your creativity. When you pay attention to your surroundings, you see things through a new lens and perspective. You may notice the unique yet natural shape of an insect and think to yourself, how can the shape of the insect be used for designing your new product? How about noticing colours out in the forest to inspire your new clothing line? When you are disconnected from the computer and your normal surroundings, a change in an environment like the forest can spark new ideas and creativity.
Forest bathing helps your well-being
Calming benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. According to a blog by David Suzuki, a Canadian academic and science broadcaster, titled “Nature calms the brain and heals the body”, David sums up the benefits including decreased anxiety and strengthened immune system. There are Japanese studies that show people who spend time in the forest inhale plant-based essential oils, negatively charged ions, and beneficial bacteria. Association of Nature & Forest Therapy lists other benefits including increased energy, increased ability to focus, and reduced blood pressure.