Today we had a half day and went out for lunch to a nearby coastal town, called Kalk Bay. As we sat absorbing the atmosphere and ozone, looking at the beautiful sea views, waves crashing over the rocks along the coast and listening to the gulls I thought about my friend who mentioned that she enjoys forest bathing as her chosen way of restoration. I was interested to know more about this as I love forests too.
So what is forest bathing?
This is what I discovered. Forest bathing is about connecting with nature, and not what my husband thought: bathing in an open bath tub in nature with bubbles (although that might be his dream.) It’s steeping yourself in the forest ambiance, mood and atmosphere through your senses and not about rushing through the forest on your way to some destination, while working up a sweat, through hiking or biking. Apparently the concept comes from the Japanese in the 1980’s when an official of agriculture first used the term. Now there is an institute in Japan that instructs people in guiding in shinrin-yoku (Japanese word for Forest Bathing.) People claim that it has therapeutic and health benefits.
How do you so this?
Well in a sense cultures have done it for centuries, naturally, and it is not really new but unfortunately with cities springing up and life becoming fast paced we need to be reminded of such activities in nature and so it seems like it has become a trendy activity these days. For those looking for some inspiration I offer inspiration only as I am not a forest bathing guide.
When you set out notice how you feel before you enter the forest. You might be hurried and harrowed, maybe even resenting that you had planned to do some forest bathing. That’s okay. I think you will feel differently when you reappear from the forest afterwards. To ensure that you are comfortable wear easy fitted clothes, take a second covering, in case it is cold, and insect repellent if insects worry you. You can sit; lie down; or you may even forage for nuts and berries or mushrooms if you have the know-how. Some people like to be barefoot as well. I suggest pick your most comfortable position or activity because you want to be immersed for a while. This is really like soaking in a bath; you don’t just hop in and out.
I recommend, using all your senses to absorb the ambiance. Become quietly aware and notice your surroundings and your own body. To do this you could first tell your ‘inner critic’ or your ‘inner logic-planner’, ‘thank you for your input but I don’t need you right now’, and turn the volume button right down. Then invite your ‘inner observer’ into your forest bathing experience. Let your inner observer guide and prompt you in your refreshing journey. Here are some some prompts for the different senses; take a few minutes on each one:
- observe through the eyes – what do you see?
- Then the ears – what do you hear?
- Then the nose – what can you smell?
- Notice the air flowing in through your nose and into your lungs.
- Feel your chest rising and sinking.
- What does your ‘heart’ feel?
- What does your gut say to you?
- Near the end of your stay ask yourself what does your mind make of this?
Each of us operates naturally from the heart, gut or mind so one of these questions might feel easier to relate to. The most important thing is that you connect with nature and absorb as much of it as possible, the questions are not so important rather they are prompts to help you be aware. As with many things forest bathing should be done regularly for best results.
The benefits are similar to meditation, as you switch off your busy brain it relaxes and taps into alpha waves, which is like wakeful rest: slowing your heart rate, clearing your mind, helping you feel peaceful and calm. Sometimes one can gain insights in this state. Many find it enhances the mood, so depression and stress are eased. It truly has a restorative value.
What can you do if you don’t live in a safe environment, near a forest or can’t get out your house?
Remember some places in the world are not as safe as others; always keep safe and only go on your own if you are in a safe environment.
- You could organize a quiet forest bathing group much like a retreat. Literally retreating into the forest.
- If you don’t live near a forest try gardening, either in your own garden or help a friend.
- Another idea I like doing is sitting amongst the plants in my garden. I feel like a child again foraging round in the undergrowth. It’s amazing how many birds I see up close. Don’t worry about what people will think – if it refreshes you do it.
- If you prefer feeling more civilized visit a protected park, such as a botanical park.
- If you can’t get out your house you could use forest sound recordings to listen to, and use some type of fragrance, either oils or candles that are evocative of nature; even having an outdoor scene up in a special place can help you feel close to nature.
As for our outing I think by the time we were finished our lunch and gone for a walk along the pier we felt like we had been on holiday and were refreshed and ready to go back to work. I agree the forest is a great place where one can go to be restored through forest bathing just as other natural environment is, even the mountains and coastal shores. You might have a preference or you might find them all equally restorative. I would definitely encourage you to seek out your place for ‘bathing’ your soul regularly.
Here are some pictures of the place that restores our souls, Kalk Bay.