Having a connection to nature is a feeling that’s as old as the human race. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors lived in harmony with the land and relied on it for food, shelter and warmth. But as we’ve built more cities and created new technology, our connection to nature is no longer what it used to be.
Rediscovering that bond is a therapeutic practice, as presented in Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles’ Forest Bathing: The Rejuvenating Practice of Shinrin Yoku. This book delves into the Japanese concept of forest bathing, providing helpful tips on how to embrace the natural world and building it into a positive mental health routine.
Introducing the concept
The book starts with an explanation of forest bathing, a term coined in 1982 by the director of the Japanese Forest Agency to describe a type of natural therapy that can be practiced anywhere in the world. Shirin yoku as its known in Japanese, involves traveling through a green space and living in the present moment. Sounds simple right? There’s so many different nuances that the authors examine throughout the book.
Garcia and Miralles refer to several studies that have demonstrated the healthy benefits of forest bathing, which is summed up in the following list:
- Brain: Helps produce more happiness hormones. Mitigates aggression and sudden mood swings. Helps repair damaged tissue. Reduces the risk of dementia.
- Eyes: Relaxes and restores eyesight, which is greatly impaired by the constant use of screens on all our devices.
- Heart: Lowers blood pressure. Slows heart rate.
- Digestive system: Taking a walk after a meal significantly improves digestion, even for people prone to constipation or diarrhea.
- Immune system: Naturally boosts our defenses, protecting us from disease.
- Longevity: As shown by the study done on ikigai in the village of centenaries, contact with nature increases life expectancy.
The science of shinrin yoku
These benefits are explained in a section that goes into detail about the scientific factors of forests and green spaces. One interesting example is the presence of phytoncides, natural poisons that are released by plants to protect against rot.
Humans are exposed to phytoncides when eating vegetables and when in contact with a large number of plants and trees. The theory is that when exposed to phytoncides in small doses, mental wellbeing is improved, with the compounds reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
This scientific evidence is balanced by a look into the philosophy of forest bathing, which is formed by ideas like yugen and komorebi. Yugen is “what we experience when we gaze at a starry sky at night, when we suddenly lose our individuality the moment we realise we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s a feeling that nature provokes in us: the moment we understand we aren’t separate from the universe, that we are the universe.”
Komorebi is a beautiful Japanese aesthetic that refers to patterns of light and shade that is produced by nature. Think of the sun filtering through the trees or a thick mist forming on the grass at dawn. It’s an abstract type of natural art that can induce calming effects.
Putting forest bathing into practice
Practicing shirin yoku is an easy process that can be done alone or with someone else. The main steps are:
- Be aware and focused only on the experience.
- Empty your mind.
- Forget about time and pressing needs.
- Walk leisurely, stop when you need to, breathe.
- Talk about what you observe in nature.
- Look for silent spaces.
- Anchor yourself in the present.
- Forget about having to go home.
There are multiple variations to these steps, so it’s about finding what works best for you. So long as you’re able to clear your mind, remove any distractions and concentrate on the sights and sounds of the environment, you’ll be able to embrace forest bathing.
Overall, the book strikes a good balance between educating readers on the benefits of shinrin yoku and backing it up with scientific studies. There’s also some interesting historical anecdotes about people who felt connected to nature such as the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove and the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
Purchase the book today from Tuttle Publishing and let me know what you think!