What is Forest-Bathing (Shinrin-Yoku)?

When I first heard about “Forest Bathing,” I had a mental image of a claw-footed tub situated among moss covered stones and babbling brooks. Was it part of some sort of elegant outdoor spa?

Forest bathing?

Definitely not!

Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, began in Japan in the 1980s when the government chose to acknowledge its population’s stress epidemic. What could be done? How could they provide the entire country with a solution to work-related anxiety?

The Japanese government commissioned its scientists to dig deep (pun intended) into studies relating to the health benefits of spending time in nature. After all, Japan boasts a lot of incredible – and incredibly varied – parks and outdoor spaces. 

What scientists discovered, and what is consistently confirmed by subsequent studies, is that time in nature is actually very beneficial to the human physiology, and the human psyche. Inside and out, spending up to 2 hours of uninterrupted time in direct contact with nature can lower blood pressure, calm anxiety, encourage deeper sleep at night, and help balance many of the body’s natural rhythms.

Shinrin-Yoku can be translated “taking in the atmosphere of the forest” or “bathing in the atmosphere of the forest” – hence, the term Forest bathing!

I had the opportunity to participate in a Forest Bathing experience, led by a certified guide, while Sam and I vacationed near Burlington, Vermont, last week (US training for sanctioned Forest Bathing guide certification began in the early 2010’s). The guide, Duncan Murdoch, led us on an incredibly revitalizing session across Shelburne Farms.

Two hours of various exercises (or “invitations”) giving us permission to directly encounter and interact with nature using all of our senses – exploring what we saw, what we heard, even what we could touch! I was much reminded of my own instinctive meditation training.

Everywhere I turned, I felt like I was reconnecting to the wonder and marvel that I experienced as a child playing in my own backyard. One of the culminating moments of the experience found me crawling through the grass on my hands and knees, all the way up a hill where we watched the sun set across Lake Champlain, over the Adirondack Mountains. It was heavenly.

Lake Champlain – August, 2021 (Not the site of our Forest Bathing – but still so inviting!)

When’s the last time you took time to pause in nature and look around you?

Have you noticed how many different colors you see?

Have you stopped to watch all the movement we often overlook – the busy birds and insects, the wind in each branch or blade of grass?

Have you listened to the sounds of nature, or to your own footsteps outside in the grass or even on the pavement? 

When’s the last time you put your ear to a tree and heard the creaking of its upper branches swaying in the wind?

A full two hours of uninterrupted time in nature is said to give you an entire month’s worth of benefits. Try getting outside and finding a “sit spot” (a place to sit and witness nature) the next time you’re able, and just bear witness!

Happy bathing!

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