Everybody loves being in nature. Many even prefer living near its tranquility instead of the hustle and bustle of the city. Who wouldn’t, really? Being immersed in it entails comforting things. The pollution-free air, the sound of the animals within, the sunlight dancing through the trees…overall, just the rich life it has and is brimming with, which in turn makes us feel alive — physically, mentally, and spiritually.
And there hasn’t been any time than today when there is such prominence in prioritizing one’s mental health. Just take the Instagram reels and TikTok videos about the “stupid walk” for one’s “stupid mental health” that has recently graced our feeds. It has gained such popularity that it is now a challenge. And one thing that people love on social media is the abundance of challenges they can perform while filming themselves.
But if you haven’t encountered the #stupidwalkchallenge, here’s a clip from @sanderhoogendrn showing what it is about. Let us tell you this, though, bonsaitreegardener is all for it! #goingforastupidwalkforourstupidmentalhealthsoon
We know that the “stupid” bit of the challenge name is sarcastic, but we can’t help but think (and comment) that it isn’t stupid at all (sarcastic or not) — far from it.
From a Sacred Japanese Practice
The moment we saw a #stupidwalkchallenge, we were immediately reminded of something the Japanese call shinrin-yoku. In Japanese, Shinrin means “forest,” and the other half, yoku, means “bath.” Putting these two words together then means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or the act of using one’s senses to take in the forest.
Shinrin-yoku is not some form of exercise, hiking activity, or fitness trend; it is simply being in and connecting with nature. Many consider this practice as a bridge between us and the natural world. The term emerged back in the 1980s and was viewed as a physiological and psychological exercise. The purpose? Offering a natural antidote to the all too tech lives that people live and encourage them to reconnect and protect their country’s forests. The Japanese people embraced this ecotherapy with researchers studying its physiological effects as early as 1990, further justifying that time spent in nature is good for human beings.
Despite Japan being credited for the term shinrin-yoku, this is not actually a new concept. Several cultures had given the emphasis on the importance of the natural world to human health long before the Japanese did.
Practicing Forest Bathing
Unlike any other form of nature activity, forest bathing requires little requisite. It does not need for you to buy elaborate equipment and other hiking tools just to perform it. All you need is yourself, and you’re good to go. It is as simple as that. It is also a great way to show people that it does not take much to care of one’s well-being. Sometimes, it just involves taking one’s self out for a walk in a natural environment and choosing to connect with what’s around.
And while shinrin-yoku is quite straightforward to do, here are a couple of pointers to start you off:
- Find yourself a spot. It is important that you leave your phone and other electronic devices behind.
- Let your body guide you. Walk aimlessly and slowly.
- Listen to where it wants to take you.
- Follow your nose and take the time to follow wherever it leads you. It really doesn’t matter if you don’t reach a specific location.
- The point is not to go somewhere specifically. You are encouraged to savor every bit of stimulus that your senses acquire — the sights, smells, and sounds of nature.
Keep in mind that unlocking the power of the forest lies in the five senses. Surrendering can be difficult, no doubt, but it is by letting nature through the ears, eyes, hands, feet, mouth, and nose do we achieve our goal with forest bathing.
In particular, you can focus on the breeze rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees. Don’t merely look…see. See how the flora shrouds you in a calming blanket. Don’t just hear…listen. Listen to the fauna in their natural habitat — how at ease they are. Don’t just smell…breathe. Breathe in the fragrance of the forest and the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. If you breathe deep enough, you will find that you can also taste the freshness of the air. Don’t just touch…feel. Feel the trees, dip your toes in a nearby stream, and lie on the moss-covered ground. Most of all, just be…let a sense of calm and joy overcome you because this is where your sixth sense lies — a state of mind. Once you reach this point, you have connected with nature and crossed the bridge. And where does that bridge take you?
But the Process Differs for Everyone
There is no one-size-fits-all when finding relaxation. It always differs for every person. This is why you need to find a special place that suits your preferences and standards. Maybe a place that witnessed your childhood or a place that resembles it. Or, if there’s a nearby river that you fancy, it’ll be easier to reach and just as effective. Wherever that place might be, the effects of the forest bath will be more powerful and the connection stronger if it is somewhere special to you.
You can also enlist the help of a forest guide or sign up for a forest-therapy program.
Forest therapy is a research-based program that supports healing and wellness through forest and natural environment immersions. It has an open-ended framework that offers no prescription for what people should specifically experience or receive. It is a practice rooted in developing a deep relationship of reciprocity. This entails that both the forest and the practitioner work their way in coming together in support of the wellness and wholeness of each.
Nonetheless, it is also just as easy to indulge in forest bathing without a guide or a program. You can even perform the following activities to help you relax, connect with nature, and disconnect from the fast-paced world:
- Breathing exercises
- T’ai chi
Basically, you can do anything (as long as it does not involve any electronic devices) and be anywhere — it doesn’t even have to be in an actual forest! Once you learn how to bathe in the forest, you can do it absolutely anywhere with trees.
Benefits of Forest Baths
Forest bathing is not only an undertaking for wilderness lovers. Anyone and everyone can benefit from it.
Some of these benefits include:
- Better Immune System Function. The improvements to immune functioning are related to the lower urinary stress hormones when in nature. The natural chemicals, also known as phytoncides, released by evergreen trees have been associated with immune defenders’ activity.
- Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing. Spending time in nature improves both mental performance and creativity. A study by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides showed that a group of Outward Bound participants performed 50 percent better when dealing with creative problem-solving after three days of backpacking.
- Improving Mood. Countless studies have proven that time in forests significantly improves people’s moods. There are also studies stating that nature walks are correlated with greater mood improvements than urban walking.
- Stress Management. A 40-minute walk in the forest can already improve mood and other health-related aspects. Likewise, the stress hormone cortisol decreases in levels after a walk in the forest as compared to ones done in a laboratory setting. What this study and related ones prove is that forest bathing mitigates the root cause of a multitude of ailments, which is stress.
Great Places to Try Forest Bathing
Take your forest baths to the next level by traveling to these incredible places (because why not travel somewhere ethereal while you’re at it!):
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
It is only fitting to start our list with Brazil, the home (at least a part of it because it’s just that big!) to the Amazon rainforest famed for its incredible biodiversity spanning over an area of 6.7 million square kilometers.
Doing a forest bath in Foz do Iguaçu includes:
- A contemplative trail.
- Expansion of the senses through breathing exercises.
- The recognition of ecological relationships.
Mindfulness techniques are also performed by touching trees and piling Pebbles of Hope. Visitors can then swim in the Iguaçu River and eat a healthy meal afterward.
Feel like going to Central America for a forest bath? Sentir Natural in Costa Rica would be a great place to visit. It is a venture that has helped hundreds of people have a better quality of life and perform better in their private and even work lives. From forest therapy to workshops and retreats, Sentir Natural has everything that you may want individually or with your family, friends, and co-workers.
Waipoua Forest, New Zealand
One word: Sacred.
There is a giant kauri tree at the heart of the Waipoua Forest known as Tāne Mahuta or “Lord of the Forest.” With its exact age unknown and its size believed to be the largest to stand today, it’s no wonder it has garnered the reputation as the most famous tree in New Zealand.
The kauri trees are sacred to the Māori people as they are considered the “protectors of the forest.” You can inquire with footprintswaipoua for one of their life-changing tours among the ancient giants of the Waipoua Forest.
A minimum of once a week is the recommended frequency of immersing one’s self in forest bathing. And while this seems like minimum effort, it can still be difficult to find the time to commit to the practice one day a week. This reason is why you can perform it at home by increasing the number of your plants.
You don’t even have to bring in the large trees that forests usually have. Having your bonsais around would be enough. Gardening and bonsai growing is an excellent way of blurring the lines between the natural world and your home. These simple acts that allow you to stay in the confines of your home are enough to connect with nature and experience its calming and relaxing effects.
Want to add more bonsais to your growing collection? Visit our shop today to find the bonsai species you want to take home!