Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing): A Wellness Practice for All Ages
My daughter -- the little imp -- snuck in this pic of me doing my thing on a recent hike at Arabia Mountain in Atlanta, Georgia. I have kind of a love affair with granite, and I can’t help but take my shoes off to feel it under my feet.
It may hearken back to my childhood adventures at my uncle’s cabin just outside Sequoia National Park. I used to laze on the giant, sun-soaked granite outcroppings next to the Kaweah River, warming my chilled little self, pruny from hours of play in the river. Once I was hot enough, back into the water I dove, like an otter in its natural element.
Connecting with nature is just so life-giving, don’t you think? And there are so many ways to do it. You can pursue it through touch, like an impromptu barefoot yoga session, grounding into the side of a mountain. Through taste, as you bite into a warm tomato, plucked fresh off the vine. Through scent, as you breath in the spicy, invigorating scent of a pine forest. Through the ear, as you listen to the rhythmic pounding of the surf. Through sight, as you take in a glorious mountain top view of fiery fall foliage.
Exploring the forest with all 5 senses
The Japanese have a lovely practice called Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest bath”. I absolutely love this concept. First coined in 1982 by the Japanese government to encourage its over-stressed work force to explore the wellness benefits of nature, it is steeped in ancient Buddhist and Shinto tradition.
The idea is to “bathe” in the experience of a quiet stroll through the forest. Engaging all the senses, allowing the life-giving beauty of the forest to seep deep into your senses as you walk. The clean oxygenated air cleansing your lungs. The satisfying crunch of pine needles under your feet. The stillness which, when you listen long enough, is not so still at all. It is rich with the unhurried rhythms of life -- birds calling to one another and building nests, squirrels and marmots scurrying in the underbrush, leaves whispering to one another in the wind. Before you know it, you have distanced yourself just a little bit from the worries of daily life, allowing them to become smaller, less intimidating, conquerable.
According to a 2019 medical study conducted in Japan, the many physical and mental health benefits of shinrin-yoku are clear:
“In recent years, many of [sic] Japanese workers have complained of fatigue and stress, considering them as risk factors for depression. Studies have found that “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku) has positive physiological effects, such as blood pressure reduction, improvement of autonomic and immune functions, as well as psychological effects of alleviating depression and improving mental health."
In my early twenties, I explored the practice of shinrin-yoko in Oze National Park in Gunma, Japan. Oze is Japan's largest mountainous wetland, and is surrounded by gorgeous peaks. Wildflowers bloom all over Oze, and visitors walk on plank walkways to protect the delicate foliage.
So you see, forest bathing can be applied anywhere in nature. You can tap into its wisdom not only in the forest, but also in a wetland, or on a granite outcropping. Nature has its healing rhythms. You and your family will benefit from them anytime you draw near, whether on your travels or in your own backyard.
Shinrin-yoku closer to home
But your family doesn’t have to travel all the way to Japan to enjoy this delightful practice! In our upcoming Tranquil Travel Guide for Sequoia National Park (to be released in early 2021), I will walk you through how your family can do this amidst the great Sequoia Redwoods of the Sierras. The kids will enjoy doing a little nature journaling, or wood carving, or pine needle gathering to make their own tea (we’ll show you how to do this safely!). Awakening their senses to their surroundings, they will find new calm, new delight, in nature -- and so will you!
Stay tuned for information on the 2021 release date of our Sequoia National Park Tranquil Travel Guide! But I warn you, forest bathing may become your family's new wellness addiction. Happy bathing!
Give the gift of tea this holiday season
(And maybe get a little something for yourself, too!)
Adagio teas offer a mouth-watering array of teas from all over the world -- including a fantastic selection of Japanese teas. Try their Teas of Japan sampler which includes kuki-cha, hoji-cha, genmai-cha, and sen-cha. For these Japanese delights and more, simply click the image above, and type in "Japan" in the search box. Oh, and did I mention they make tea candles as well?!? Try the green tea candle or oolong candle to explore the earthy tea scents of Japan.
(Guess what? Your Teas of Japan purchase supports Doctors without Borders. Embrace the season of giving!)
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