The Japanese have always been the relative blueprint of striking a balance between nature and lifestyle, and one of their therapy’s is no different.
“Shinrin-yoku” is a therapy that has been around for longer than two (2) decades, but its title is said to have been coined in the 1980s, and its premise is wildly popular today – some just don’t even know they’re doing it.
Shinrin – in Japanese – means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.”
Forest Bathing does not actually involve soap or water. It’s not about skinny dipping or swimming in a river. Shinrin Yoku is embraced as a state of mindful stillness within the bounds of nature. One of the best things about this process of soaking up nature, is that it is suitable for any fitness level.
In one of the many guided forest bathing therapy programs available around the world, one may be asked to sequentially focus on their various senses while in the context of nature. With this particular Japanese therapy, you are elevating all five sensory experiences, such as: tasting fruit, visually taking in the magnitude of nature, hearing the wind rustle through the forest, and being touched by sunshine, or smelling damp soil.
Anytime you walk amongst trees, without the purpose of rushing off to a set destination, is considered forest bathing. It is meant to be wholly immersive and timed only to your need for calm and relaxation, fresh air, and not being led by your To-Do lists on your technological devices.
There aren’t many rules to forest bathing. However, steering clear of your own technology for a while, is a strong recommendation, in order to better connect with the natural world around you. Should you really abide by the principles of connecting with nature, there is an abundance of physical and mental benefits to be reaped.
Forest bathing became a foundation of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. It is now considered to be one of the top relaxation activities, not only in Japan, but around the world as well. Research from experts around the world indicate that exposure to nature reduces stress, depression, anxiety and creates a positively calming neuropsychological effect. Additionally, forest baths have been known to:
- relieve the body from all kinds of muscle and mental tensions
- reduce blood pressure
- help improve your emotional quotient by calming your nerves (a 90-minute nature walk was associated, in research, with decreased rumination, according to Women’s Health)
- allow you to breathe in oxygen-rich air
- help to control the symptoms of hypertension,
- be a source of inspiration
- and according to researcher Qing Li, by breathing phytoncides, forest bathing boosts our immune system.
In a research paper titled: ‘Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review’ by Margaret M. Hansen, Reo Jones, and Kirsten Tocchini, it was also revealed that among its benefits, forest walking can help with better neurological functions, and your sensory organs can get better (like developing a stronger sense of smell, or improved eyesight).
Women’s Health (2021) cited a number of studies which seem to settle on 120 minutes per week (estimated to be about 17-20 minutes per day) as a sweet spot for the minimum amount of time that humans “need” to be in nature. Subsequently, I tried out this must-do practice in the Tokai forest – leaving my phone at the office, and just taking in the majestic nature that surrounded me.
At first it was hard for me to switch off and relax, however, after a few minutes of deep breathing, I forgot about the pressures of the day and started to unwind.
Living in Cape Town has its advantages – much like Japan, where the benefits of forest bathing were held in such high esteem that they created 65 Shirin Yoku forests for their citizens to escape to when their bustling work lives became too oppressive. Cape Town may not have dedicated Shirin Yoku forests, but there are so many open spaces and outdoor areas which are perfect for variations of forest bathing.
If you are office bound, and not near a forest, try heading to your local park to experience your own version of forest bathing. Here are a few more ways to reap the benefits of Shinrin-yoku therapy now:
- Find an area filled with trees.
- Don’t wear a watch or rush the experience.
- Use all your senses to smell the fresh air, see the trees, hear the leaves, feel the ground, and if you’re brave enough, then taste the leaves (just be sure you correctly identify the leaves you taste).
- For safety reasons always inform someone of your plans, or rather go in a group.
- Be sure you know the forest, or trail, in your area.
- Pack water and a snack.
- Wear proper walking shoes or take off your shoes once you’ve entered the forest area.
- Bring along waterproof attire (especially in Cape Town, where the weather changes constantly).
There are heaps of different activities you can also do in the forest, that will help you to relax and to connect with nature. As the renowned resident fitness enthusiast in South Africa, I can attest to several ways find calm and relaxation within nature (like eating and Tai Chi) – even with there not being a one-size-fits-all solution.
For more on that, listen in to the podcast of my radio fitness feature on “Forest Bathing”, its perks, safety measures, how-to, and forest activities you too can do: