By Robin Y. Rivet, for Let’s Talk Plants! June 2023.
Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku
"Forest bathing" does not require soap or water. Trees are essential.
Defined as “making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest”, the term “Shinrin-yoku” was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, primarily to address high rates of depression caused by worker fatigue and stress. Although Japanese culture has long revered the benefits of communal soaking in hot water, Shinrin-yoku does not imply physical washing, but there’s hard science to elevate its legitimacy.
It sounds simple enough. Head out into nature and forget your troubles.
Not so fast.
Communing with other lifeforms requires a new mindset. Tune in, while simultaneously tuning out. If that sounds like work, and just what you’re trying to avoid, keep in mind that forest bathing is not meditation or even mindfulness; the goal is the sensory experience.
As urbanites, we tend to quantify everything that is presumably good for us…
· How many miles we ran, walked or hiked
· Calories spent or ingested
· How many books read
· Or even birds counted
Who doesn’t have bucket lists? Do you consume enough fruits and vegetables? Water? We even rate our sleep-time for quality. For mental sharpness, must you complete that crossword puzzle? Every day and in ink? Conversely, maybe you nap or snack a lot, or imbibe too much wine and then feel guilty? Just thinking along these lines is the antithesis of forest bathing, and perhaps a reason for it. Even gardeners who spend quality time outdoors often focus on how much gets accomplished; weeding, tending, or harvesting. When you see an errant weed, do you feel compelled to pluck? For over-stressed societies, “not” having an agenda is increasingly unfamiliar. Yet, perhaps within a mile or so, immersion in an “urban forest” requires little more than having a sufficient number of trees to provide a refuge from the noise, odor and bustle of modern life. No scrubbing necessary. In fact, a little dirt is healthy. Remember that weed? What if you knelt down and looked at the world from its perspective? Up close. Observed moisture clinging to bark surfaces. Can you smell vanilla? In the moment, don’t be concerned about plant names. Just appreciate touch, sight or scents.
Forest bathing has already arrived as medicine. No cost. Experiment sitting under one tree, or near a few clustered together. You don’t have to fly to the Sierras. Seek a natural space out of sight and sound of billboards, cars, or crowds. It might even be your backyard. Don’t time yourself, and kindly stash your electronics. Ideally, soil will be close enough to smell. Focus on that. Consider sitting on the ground or taking off your shoes; there’s no set rules. It’s okay to hear birds or the wind, but successful forest bathing relies on clearing your mind, and opening all your senses. A local advocate of forest bathing, Rhana Kozak, says we have more than the five senses we learned as kids. In fact, scientists now suggest we have at least a dozen, and perhaps as many as 50 senses. “Proprioception” is the sensory ability to touch one’s nose or climb stairs without looking. We also sense velocity, imbalance, heat and cold, itch, pain, gravity, hunger, thirst, pressure, magnetism as well as some less quantifiable ones like our sense of fear, consciousness, empathy or even love. So please: go hug a tree and really mean it.