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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One of my favorite films growing up as a child was Disney’s The Jungle Book. Not only was this film full of animals and some pretty jazzy music (Bare Necessities never fails to bring a smile to my face), but the idea of a little boy being adopted and raised by wolves had always fascinated me. I consider wolves to be such beautiful creatures, but wary of their reputation (think of Red Riding Hood or Aesop’s Fables).
Earlier this year, we bumped into BBC’s Ingenious Animals. In Episode 3 (See a clip here), they delve into the world of animal communication. Specifically, they discuss communication amongst wolves. Previously, it had always been thought that the wolf pack was held together by the aggressive and domineering alpha male. With further research, they found that this was not necessarily the case. During experiments where they took turns removing different members from the pack, the rest of the pack would howl for their missing family member. It was discovered that the wolves would utilize a different call depending on who was missing. They realized that these calls changed depending on the closeness they felt for the missing wolf, in the same way that you would feel different if an acquaintance left the room or your best friend. Thus, this was not necessarily a top-down hierarchy in the traditional sense.
Furthermore, in experiments where they were comparing differences between wolves and domesticated dogs, they found some fascinating results. They performed experiments in which they observed the difference between how wolves share food versus dogs, thus measuring the animals’ tolerance. What they found was that dogs don’t share their food. Whoever is the alpha dog, goes in and eats everything, while the subordinate dog does not even attempt to get a bite. There’s no dinner for the underdog. In all the experiments where the wolf alpha male was released with a subordinate, the wolves always shared their food.
The reasoning behind this behavior? Dogs are scavengers and less likely to share. Wolves have always hunted in packs to bring down their prey, thus they have a need for tolerance, communication, partnership, and friendship, ensuring their success and survival. We could learn a lot from these fascinating and marvelous creatures, don’t you think?
So, why am I telling you this?
Firstly, because we cannot assume that our postulations or the knowledge we have is correct. This is something I am definitely working on :)
Secondly, because this past September we had the incredible privilege of visiting The Wolf Conservation Association in Belgium. Although almost extinct in Europe at one point in time, the wolf has slowly been making a comeback.
This association rescues wolves from private citizens, animal parks, and zoos that no longer wish to keep them. They are often mistreated and when they are no longer wanted are euthanized. It’s heartbreaking to hear of their mistreatment and that once the entertainment value dissipates many of these animals are killed. This association believes that this is not responsible behavior neither does it show love or fair treatment for the animals in question. They champion the cause of wolves by rescuing them, educating the public and making sure that these wolves live in nature or in the very least semi-natural conditions. It’s not just about the protection and preservation of the species but also of the ecosystem. They apply pressure on public authorities for changes in laws for the protection of animals in Belgium and Europe. Wolves aren’t pets.
And if you ever doubted their role within the ecosystem, take a peek at this incredible video which explains what happened to the natural environment once wolves were reintroduced at Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
Our day at the association was wonderful. We were able to see all different types of wolves from all over Europe. We even saw some beautiful Hudson Bay wolves which are native to Canada. All these were semi-wild and very wary of us.
However, we had the amazing privilege to enter into one of the massive enclosures where we were allowed to interact with two Swiss wolves (a brother and sister) that had been hand-reared and were unable to be released into the wild. It was incredible and I’ve been reliving it in my mind and heart ever since. It was like receiving the most loving greeting from your best friend or a wonderful relative you haven’t seen in years. I don’t know if it was the pregnancy hormones that endeared me to them, but I was so moved by their affection. I almost started to feel guilty, as the brother wolf barely left my side. They of course made their rounds to all the guests who had entered in the enclosure, but the brother wolf stayed with me most of the time allowing me to pet him, talk to him, and even feel the pads under his feet as he cuddled with me and sat or laid by my side. I know this wouldn’t happen in the wild and neither should it, but it made me imagine how a perfect world would be without fear. The sister wolf would of course come around, say hi, give a short cuddle, make sure she wasn’t missing anything too exciting, and then would be off on her way.
Unfortunately, time was limited within the enclosure (I think that was the fastest 35-40min ever) and we were not allowed to bring our camera equipment, but I trust that these images we captured with our phones can give you a sense of what happened.
When I think back to that day, I have tears in my eyes, because it’s what I imagine heaven would be like—no fear, only perfect peace where, “the wolf...shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion… together; and a little child shall lead them," (Isaiah 11:6).
It's a memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. And one which encourages me to keep the discussion going on how we look at, think of, and treat our world around us whether it be how we treat each other, nature or wildlife. Please remember that when you invest in a piece of fine art with us or any product you purchase in our online shop, a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to one of three organizations whose sole mission is: wildlife and habitat conservation, offering medical care to displaced persons in war torn countries, or rescuing children from the sex trafficking industry (You can read more about it here and here).
I’ll leave you with Jane Goodall’s extraordinary words,” Let us develop respect for all living things. Let us try to replace violence and intolerance with understanding and compassion. And love.”