One thing that the 2020 lockdown has taught me is to chill. Nothing is going to disappear from your life, everything can wait, if at least a little bit. We’re in such a hurry all our lives, permanently stressed about money, relationships, things we own, things we want to own. And that’s not healthy. Stress and trauma are literally weakening the cells in our body as I’m writing this. They are then prone to self-destruction and diseases, making us more vulnerable, poorly and just not well both in the body and in the mind. That’s where the Japanese forest therapy called “Shinrin-Yoku” comes in.
Shinrin-Yoku is the art of forest bathing. It originates from the 1980’s Japan, where people who started working with computers and modern technology began to come down with what we call “modern day” diseases and ailments. Cancer, stroke, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety, stress and more. The Japanese scientists did their research which showed that spending more time in the nature significantly lowered the risk of these diseases. The reason being that trees and plants emit something called “phytoncides”. These chemicals have positive impact on cells in human body making them stronger and more durable to negative effects of our lifestyle, technology, stress and other factors we face every day.
It has been since proven in multiple studies (for example this one) that Shinrin-Yoku (translated as Forest Bathing) is hugely beneficial to us. Especially with such a high amount of people now living in the cities and children growing up without knowing what a forest or a cow is – I’ve genuinely met children that had never seen a forest or a cow. The shock. The horror. Forest Bathing can improve your mood, diminish your anxiety, lower your blood pressure. It makes you super chill and protects you from illnesses, to put it shortly.
5 reasons you need to try forest therapy
I always harp on this one in every single “mindful living” post but I honestly believe it’s one of those life-changing revelations. I’ve learnt this from the book by Shoukei Matsumoto who claims that recognising seasons as a part of our life is absolutely vital. Cleaning our home as the seasons change. Using different scents as the seasons change. Eat different foods as the seasons change. Go into the nature and observe the magical changes with our own eyes. Seasons make for the most natural time watchers and help us separate different parts of our lives. They help us move on but also reminisce and remember. And what better place to watch the seasons change other than a forest?
The health benefits here are undeniable, they are actually backed by a multitude of studies. There are books written on this very topic. There are even courses that teach you how to do the forest bathing like a pro. The nature heals our bodies and minds. And don’t forget that walking through a forest is an exercise. You don’t necessarily have to stroll quietly on your own. You can hike to the mountains. Or you can take the opportunity and turn it into a 10k run. Or a 2k run. You know the best how to bathe in phytoncides so it feels right for you.
Foraging for treasures
My favourite part of our forest therapy wander over the weekend was the foraging part. It brought back all the memories of my childhood when I was scrambling through the woods every afternoon trying to find little twigs and huge leaves to build my very own squirrel and bug hotels. You can forage for all sorts of things, just make sure you’re in a forest where foraging is allowed.
Look for nettle leaves and dandelions for tea. Pine needles for a pine syrup for your gin cocktails. Blueberry shrubs which you can dig out (not all of them, maybe one or two if there are plenty in your forest) and put in a pot in your balcony garden. Pick lilacs and peonies to put in a vase in your kitchen. Pick up pine cones for seasonal decor. Or to grow little bonsai trees from them. Collect pebbles to paint and give to your loved ones. Take a basket and fill it up with mushrooms, strawberries, raspberries. Or pick up a couple of fern leaves to dry and make into bookmarks.
The other day I saw a forest therapy adventure book in the bookstore. What a brilliant idea! If you’re used to fast paced activities or perhaps are taking your little ones with, mindfully roaming through the woods might just not cut it for you. And that’s fine. Make an adventure of it! You can set out on a scavenger hunt (who finds more mushrooms? the biggest blueberry?). Or you can set up a photo competition. Take photos of 10 different plants that grow in the forest. Or 10 different mushrooms! You could even take a Bear Grylls survival kind of book with you and try making a fire with just two stick. Learn which way is the north pole just by looking at the tree bark. So many options!
I’ve already talked about how immensely beneficial forest bathing is for our body. Yet the biggest benefit you can actually get from it right here and right now is the organisation of your mind. It’s the perfect place to connect with your thoughts. Think things over. Meditate. Imagine your future. Remember your past. Decide what your life priorities are. What’s important to you. Who is your friend. And who isn’t. Should you spend more time with your loved ones? Should you spend less time with that one “friend” that constantly puts you down? Save more money? And how? Practise self love. Definitely practise self love. And be happy. And calm. That stressful job certainly isn’t worth it. Or maybe is, because it’s a part of your life plan. Being in the middle of the forest really does help you figure shit out.