The practice of Shinrin Yoku, or "forest bathing", is a therapy that was developed in Japan in the 1980's as a way to combat stress, anxiety and depression. Although, the forest has had a calming effect on the human body and psyche for much longer than that.
Researchers in Japan and South Korea have done studies on the health benefits of spending time in the forest, and they found that forest bathing creates positive and calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system. Every study conducted so far has demonstrated reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness in the participants. In fact, after just 15 minutes of forest bathing, blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced and concentration and mental clarity improve.
Although I've only recently learned that the concept is called forest bathing, I've been utilizing this type of therapy for years. The air is peaceful, clean and clear. There is color all around and a rich tapestry of sounds and smells. There is something so unbelievably peaceful about submersing yourself in nature. No matter what your worries, concerns or stresses are, there are millions of creatures all around you, just going about the business of living. There are no deadlines, no pressures, no problems, just the natural rhythm of the world. I often find that I enjoy dreaming and making exciting plans while wandering in the woods, and I do my best problem solving directly after a good hike.
There are a few best practices keep in mind when practicing Shinrin-Yoku:
Lose the phone! Either leave it at home/in the car, or if safety is a concern, put it on do-not-disturb and stow it away in a backpack or your pocket.
Be Flexible. Don't go into your time in the forest with too much of an agenda. It's fine to map out a hiking path or general area to stick in, but try not to set any goals for distance walked, pace or calories burned.
Be aware of your surroundings. This is both a safety tip and an experience tip. Stop from time to time and just look around. Try to note the subtle variations in the landscapes, any critters you see, the way the light plays off the leaves,etc.
Take your time, you can even find a comfy spot to sit and just observe for a while. Sometimes, I'll bring a notebook with me and use it to write down thought s that come to me, journal about the experience, or sketch pictures of leaves, rocks and bugs. The experience is whatever you decide to make of it, the important things are just to unplug, soak up extra oxygen and vitamin D and allow yourself to heal and unwind.
If you give this a try, comment with your experience below! And, as an extra bonus, I've included the song Shinrin-Yoku by Enter Shikari, which I can credit for originally piquing my interest in the theory. Enjoy!
PS. Here's a few pictures from my last frolic through the woods! These were taken at Stroud Preserve, in Southeastern Pennsylvania.