Sunbaked cedar and pine
Dappled sunlight through the trees
A cool breeze whispers
Delicate unfurling fronds
The forest sings to the sky
My heart comes alive
Shinrin meaning forest in Japanese, and yoku referring in this instance to bathing, showering or basking in. To bask in the beauty of the forest, or using my favorite catchword, to marvel.
This is not about exercise but rather a meandering through the woods without a specific objective. The aim is to open yourself up to nature and to connect with nature via all of your senses. “Shinrin Yoku is like a bridge,” writes Dr. Qing Li. “…By opening our senses it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.” The rules (for lack of a better word): walk slow and let your body be your guide. There is no need for technology. Take your time. Breathe. It’s not about reaching a goal or a destination, it’s about enjoying the journey, feeling every single facet of the experience – the sights, sounds, tastes and the fragrance of the forest. To completely surrender to the moment and to your surroundings. To savor.
Although nature has always been an integral part of Japanese culture, Shinrin Yoku was coined in the 1980s when the Forest Agency of the Japanese Government established a program to encourage the public to explore the natural wonders outside their densely populated urban cities. It was a call to bathe the mind, body and soul in the beauty of nature found in the forest networks of Japan. In addition to appreciating nature, it was also a cry to promote the health benefits of being in the forest.
It was only in the 90s, where science was able to back up the benefits of Shnirin Yoku that the Forest Agency had initially advertised. Studies conducted by Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University in the forests of Yakushima found that physical activity (40 minutes of walking) in the forest versus 40 minutes of physical activity conducted in a laboratory improved mood and feelings of vigor. You may think, “Duh! That’s a no brainer”. However, what is interesting is that he was also able to measure lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in individuals after being in a forest compared with those who took laboratory walks. This was the first clue that offered scientists a measurable difference between walking in a forest versus another environment.
After this initial study, more research was conducted by Chiba University as well as other groups in Kyoto to evaluate physiological markers while subjects spent time in a forest. These studies confirmed that being in a forest setting can reduce symptoms of stress, depression and aggression by lowering cortisol levels and blood pressure. In addition, forest bathing was found to improve sleep and increase energy.
And just to tempt you even more into giving this a try, a study conducted by Dr. Qing Li from the Nippon Medical School found that forest bathing, whether it was for a couple of hours or over three days had a huge long-lasting impact on the health of his subjects. It is well known that any stress can compromise the immune system, especially the cells that are on the frontlines. Therefore, since forest bathing was proven to lower cortisol levels, should it not have an impact on the immune system as well? Li and his team began to explore this. They were able to measure spikes in the number of Natural Killer (NK) cells (the frontline cells that help fight disease), as well as, “increases in the functional activity of these antiviral cells, and increases in the amount of intracellular anticancer proteins…” Is this not fascinating? You can read the study here.
For me, although I enjoy reading the research, I don’t need a scientific panel to tell me that getting out there is beneficial for my health or for my soul in order to go.
One of our favourite places to explore (long before we knew anything about ‘forest bathing’) are the forests near Baarn in the Netherlands. They are spectacular. Less dense then the Canadian forests which I know and love, but equally beautiful. Full of oak, cedar, birch and pine, carpets of moss that make you bounce as you walk and landscapes filled with beautiful ferns that seem to go on forever. Dirk tells me that many of these forests began as man-made forests as the original forests had been cut down hundreds of years before. Although, originally man-made, nature soon takes over and you have a plethora of incredible plant varieties, trees, fungi, animals, birds, flowers—so much to captivate the heart and senses.
Two things captivate me the most: Firstly, FERNS. Give me #alltheferns. I can’t tell you what it is about them that enchants me so. Is it the repeated patterns? The lush greens? How their fronds start secretly beneath the surface of the ground and over time unfurl into intricate works of art? I could spend hours (and do) studying them. The second is the fragrance of the forest, especially after it has been basking in the sun for a few hours. How can I even describe it? It’s intoxicating in the best way. I can smell the glow of the earth, the freshness of the green, the coolness of the breeze, the warmth of the oils from the baked pine needles and with just a hint of dampness from the soil beneath. (As a side note, I’ve started using essential oils in the last year and I am determined to recreate the fragrance and wear it as a perfume so I can take the forest with me wherever I go.)
And for my soul… being in that marvelous and peaceful place, feeling the moss beneath my feet, the texture of the bark beneath my fingertips, the warmth of the sun on my skin, the flutter of a finch about to land on a nearby branch, the crunch of the pine and leaves, and savoring the aroma of that sacred sanctuary…there is no need for any scientific data to convince me that forest bathing is good for every aspect of our beings.
That’s why I am so passionate about bringing nature indoors. We cannot always escape to the forest to find the solace or comfort that we need, but we can create our own sacred space (read more HERE) full of what gives our soul life and peace in our own home, or in a corner of our office, or right in our living room. Printed on the most beautiful torchon paper and with archival inks, our fine art prints may not give you the fragrance of the forest, but they can remind you of all the peace, tranquility and life you felt there. My friend describes our work best, “…like windows into another world.”
I encourage you, to get out there and explore the beautiful natural world around you…and even try a little Shinrin Yoku for yourself. It may take time and practice for you to quiet yourself down but it is well worth the effort and your mind and soul will thank you for it. You can view our Shinrin Yoku guide down below:
Make sure to check out our web shop for beautiful fine art botanical prints to adorn any space you call your own. Let nature in with us!
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There are so many unique and beautiful gems in the city of Amsterdam. Taking a stroll through the Jordaan with its architectural delights and small bridges, having a picnic in the Vondelpark, taking in incredible art at the Rijks or the Van Gogh Museum (I mean, come on, a whole museum dedicated to Van Gogh?! Be still my heart!), grabbing fresh produce from the Biological Noordermarkt or savoring a fresh homemade-on-the-spot stroopwafel at the Albert Cuyp (I can just feel that warm gooey syrup running down my chin as I write this).
One of the crown jewels for me is the Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical garden. Nestled in the Plantages area of the city, a skip and hop away from the Artis, this sweet oasis has really captured my heart. About a year and a half ago we purchased a membership and we find ourselves there weekly. I am baffled how EVER SINGLE WEEK we discover something new. How that is possible is beyond comprehension, unless of course they sneak in new plants in the dead of night while no one is watching. Sometimes it’s a new shoot on one of our favourite plants that we discover, but more often than not, it’s a new plant that we had never even noticed before!
Like last week, we noticed for the first the gympie-gympie plant, a stinging tree native to Australia. It tends to have oval or heart-shaped leaves covered with stinging hairs. "Like being burned by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time," according to botanist Marina Hurley on what it feels like to come into contact with the gympie-gympie. Even if the leaves have been dried and put in storage for a century no less, the hairs are still lethal as found out by some unlucky researchers. How can something with such a cute name be so astoundingly lethal? And as a side note, can I just say how grateful I am that this plant is behind glass. For more about the gympie-gympie click here.
The Hortus is one of the oldest botanical gardens of the world. Established in 1638 by the city municipality, it’s primary function was to be an herb garden with medicinal plants for the Amsterdam doctors and pharmacists. This came about due to a plague epidemic that occurred between 1634-1637. The Hortus was able to amalgamate a vast array of exotic plants that were completely unknown to the whole of Europe. These striking plants had been brought to the Netherlands via traders working under the Dutch East India Company.
If you visit the Hortus today you’ll find over 6,000 different plants divided between an incredible three climate greenhouse, palm greenhouse, butterfly greenhouse and three marvelous outdoor gardens. It never ceases to amaze me how in every season, the Hortus, looks wildly different as the year transitions from spring to summer, summer to fall and then to winter.
Their collection boasts the Victoria water lily, a massive water lily that blooms in the summer months, a Wollemi pine (which until 1994 was only known from prehistoric fossils until a park ranger discovered a group of these growing in the Blue Mountains in Australia), cycads (one of which is a 350-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad), and my favourite, a beautiful gingko biloba.
I couldn’t say which part of the gardens or greenhouses I love the most, but where I spend the most time in is in the three-climate greenhouse especially in the desert and the tropics portion—two opposite sides of the spectrum. This is where my love affair began with how light affects the way we perceive things, and the contrast between light and shadow. The weather in the Netherlands is so unpredictable and at a moment’s notice it can go from cloud to sun, to hail, to rain, to mist, and back to cloud. Especially clouds…we have an infinite supply of those here. Thus, the last 3 years have really been a study on light for me. And I relish all of its nuances in this beautiful place.
If you visit our shop, you’ll see some beautiful examples of some of the flora that you can find at the Hortus. From the tiniest succulents to the giant banana leaves towering and cascading overhead. The Hortus provides a feast for the senses. And in our shop, you’ll be able to bring some of that beauty right into your own home, with no watering or plant care required!
Amidst all the excitement, noise, culture, and thrill that Amsterdam offers, the Hortus is really an oasis of calm and respite. To us, it’s become a little slice of tranquility which we heartily enjoy. And the coffee’s good too! ;)