My grandmother knew this to be true: spending time in nature is essential for your well-being. In her late 80’s she came to live with us, and I saw how she incorporated this into her life. She required herself, as a rule, to spend an hour a day outside, connecting with nature. I could see her from my kitchen window, as I was cooking or otherwise busy with the demands of a toddler, sitting on her swing in the backyard, our yellow labrador at her feet. She would gaze into the woods, watching birds and butterflies, listening to wind move through the trees. In the winter I would come home to find her on the back deck, bundled up, sitting perfectly still in the biting cold, admiring the snowy New England landscape.
She always met me with a calm smile if I interrupted her, and often changed the subject (from whatever I was trying to say) to something like “see how the wind is lifting the leaves, it’s going to rain soon,” or “did you know you have a hawk living in the woods right over there? He’s beautiful.” She noticed, then appreciated every little thing about the natural world around her.
If she was here now, to hear about how Shinrin-yoku is a new health trend, she would probably love it. She would definitely make us all aware that she knew all along about the many mental, spiritual and physical health benefits – from personal experience.
So, have you heard of shinrin-yoku? It’s the Japanese health practice of forest bathing. I came across this word a year or two ago on a list of cool words that don’t have an English equivalent, and since my girls are obsessed with all things Japanese (including the language), it became a well known word in our house.
Also, we live in the woods. And last week I commented to my kids that since we hardly spend time in the yard or near the brook, we clearly don’t need all this space, so maybe we should move? To
make me look like a liar prove me wrong, the Princess (who has consistently refused hikes and nature walks), now goes to the brook, into the woods, every single day.
It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a full sensory experience and she comes back chatty, smiling, with a happy calm about her. Whether or not we are practicing shinrin-yoku properly (it seems there is such thing), I know that we are feeling some of the benefits – like calm clarity, and a lightened mood.
Wondering how you can benefit from Shinrin Yoku? According to studies in Japan, Europe and the US, these are a few major benefits of forest bathing:
- A reduced stress response. This is key because stress is the underlying cause of a multitude of diseases. If you can keep your stress in check, your risks for mental and physical health issues decreases.
- Increases immune system function. There is quiet literally something in the air that is great for your body. Phytoncides are natural occurring oils from trees with antibiotic/antiviral properties, and they are in the forest air, waiting for you.
- Enhanced mental focus. Forest bathing helps clear your mind and has been shown to decrease symptoms of ADHD in kids. Basically, it calms your mind.
Here’s an introduction with instructions on how to practice shinrin-yoku and get the maximum benefits from being in the woods. It may seem simplistic or silly, but I think it pinpoints what nature lovers – like my Grandmother – have known along. Nature heals. We need it.
I’m going to read up on the techniques for exploring nature with this approach (observing, touching, listening and wandering) and I’ll let you know if the proper way to practice is drastically different from what we are already doing. If you would like to learn more about the science and research behind this practice, I suggest visiting shinrin yoku.
Or you could step outside, away from your electronics and to do list, and see for yourself.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir