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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