Walk through a wooded area and your body and mind will soon reflect that you are free of electronics, artificial light, mechanical noises, and constant distractions that invisibly raise your stress levels and cause you to jump from thought to thought. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku as it’s called in Japan, is a practice of taking time to enjoy moving through a forest one step at a time, stopping here and there to observe the trees around you or your breath as you rest for a moment. It can help you change the story of your health for the better.
When you engage in forest bathing, your stress hormone levels drop as you hear a bird call to another before it swoops upward across the trail in front of you and lands on a branch high in the air. You become immersed in natural light as it peeks through the trees, casting shadows on the forest floor. You begin to recognize that you are surrounded by sounds—your footsteps, the wind blowing through the trees, and the songs of birds. Although there are many details to observe when you are outdoors in a wooded area, none demands, “Quick! Look here, right now! Listen! Or else—!”
Walking itself has health benefits simply because it is a form of exercise. Those benefits increase if you have to work a bit to ascend a hill and maintain your balance as you descend on the other side or carefully navigate an uneven or slippery surface, experiences that are common when hiking in a forest. As you forest bathe, you will start to notice something has begun to shift: You have become less reactive to stimuli around you. Perhaps a sense of trust and calm has arisen within because you have entered a mind state similar to one experienced when using shamanic practices or meditating—a state that is soothing and restorative.
Not everyone lives near a wooded area or can easily walk forest trails. Sometimes, a health condition gets in the way, or the paths are too muddy or treacherous to offer you safe passage. Yet even if you can only walk a short way into the woods and find a spot where you can sit quietly among the trees, drinking in that which surrounds you, your body may become attuned to the slower rhythms of nature even as your mind makes a natural shift to a less reactive state. You may find your worries dissipating as you start to remember your connection to something larger than yourself that has always been here and always will be. Even the cells in your brain, heart, and organs might respond to the gentle forest “bath” you are taking as you immerse yourself in this natural space.
If you suspect you might feel a greater sense of well-being if you took the time to walk through a woods, change your health story to include forest bathing and notice whether you feel the effects of Shinrin-Yoku in your mind and body.
Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a practicing clinical psychologist, Jungian analyst and shamanic practitioner. He teaches at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and is on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being. Learn more at CarlGreer.com