Written By : Bertie Cowen
America is one of the most stressed out nations in the world. According to an annual Gallup poll (which has been running since 2005), 55% of Americans said they experienced significant stress during a day, compared to just 35% globally.
Perhaps that comes as little surprise. But did you know that something as simple as a walk in the woods has been scientifically proven to reduce stress? Strange as it may sound, it can slow your pulse, reduce blood pressure and curb anxiety levels.
Forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku) has been practiced in Japan for over 800 years as a bona fide physical and mental health therapy. So much so, that Japan has several designated shinrin-yoku forests and doctors even prescribe it to their patients!
Simply put, it’s a blend of exercise and meditation where you intentionally set out to immerse yourself in the forest environment. And if you want to give it a go, then here are 8 simple tips to help you get started:
See, Touch, Hear, Smell & Taste
Set out to use all your senses as you go into the forest (but don’t eat anything poisonous!). You may well do these things naturally anyway, but you’d be surprised how much more you will get out of it by very consciously opening yourself up to an immersive sensory experience.
Observe The Light
Komorebi is a Japanese word that doesn’t have an easy English translation. But it refers to the way the light filters through the trees and dances on the trees and the forest floor. Pay special attention to this and allow yourself to get lost in the movement and the rhythm.
Pay Attention To The Wildlife
Don’t just notice the wildlife as you pass it. Try to observe how the animals interact with their environment; see how they move, how they are comfortable with their surroundings.
The Forest Rhythm
Stop. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Breathe slowly and deeply and allow yourself to be present in the forest environment.
Speak To The Trees & The Plants
This may sound a bit crazy but if you dare, try speaking to the trees and the plants, telling them what you observe. It can be a wonderful way of forcing yourself to notice and vocalise details that may pass you by if you were just on a normal hike..
Stop & Sit
Find somewhere comfy and just sit down for 20 minutes. You’d be amazed at how things can change over the course of 20 minutes. And if you sit in the same place every time, you will become even more connected to the seasons, too.
Feel The Forest
As you get deeper and deeper into your experience, keep breathing, keep observing… By focusing your attention on your environment and practising your sensory awareness, the more likely you are to feel a connection with the forest.
Transition SlowlyTake some time after your experience before moving back into your normal life. Try to avoid devices for a while and ease yourself into the hustle and bustle. With no sharp jolts back to reality, you should find that the peace and tranquility stays with you for longer.
And if all this sounds a bit hippy-dippy to you, don’t let it put you off! At the end of the day, meditation is about learning to be present and focussing your attention. If these tips don’t sit well with you, feel free to find your own path. But remember that the forest is an excellent place to start de-stressing.
This article was adapted, with permission from the author, from “How To Go Forest Bathing”, originally published at EffortlessOutdoors.com