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Shinrin-Yoku. Japanese art of Forest Bathing

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

The term is built from the Japanese words shinrin = forest and yoku = bath.


Shinrin-yoku is a therapeutic method for improving health and life quality. Developed in the 1980s in Japan. It is about being fully devoted to time spent in nature and this therapy is used widely in Japan as preventative healthcare. Health insurance in many workplaces provides employees with transport and a guide to green areas outside the city.


These days, we spend most of the time during the day in buildings or vehicles which are closed areas. Moreover, we are overloaded with stimuli and constantly stressed. It is against our nature and there is no surprise that even 15 minutes in the forest, where we come from, can bring us some benefits.



What does science say?


Our brains are not designed to live in a densely and overcrowded metropolis and it is known for a while in the medical world that some of the major psychiatric diseases are more frequent in cities. I recommend watching the TEDx conference from Berlin where dr Mazda Adli introduces the topic of stress that is caused by urban areas.




The topic of forest baths and their benefits has been thoroughly researched by Japanese scientists. The results of the studies showed many healing properties of contact with nature:


  • helps to produce more serotonin (hormone of happiness),

  • calms the mind,

  • strengthens the immune system,

  • promotes the regeneration of damaged tissues in the brain,

  • relaxes and improves eyesight,

  • lowers blood pressure,

  • slows the heart rate.


I would like to tell you about phytoncides. These are active substances that some plants secrete for defense against insects or animals and as a prevention from rotting. We have contact with these substances in the kitchen. For example in the garlic or onion (we cry cutting onion because of them). The spices of Asian cuisine are also rich in phytoncides. In fact, those are poisonous substances for us but in small doses, they turn out to be a remedy for us.


It has been proven that contact with plants that produce phytoncides, for example in the forest or garden, supports hormonal changes which improve our health. One of the experiments showed that the contemplation of green nature reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) accumulated in our saliva.


When talking about stress, we should also mention HRV (Heart Rate Variability). Scientists have come to a consensus that it is this indicator that is crucial for measuring the level of stress in a human. In short, the bigger HRV, the better. If we want to raise the level of HRV, the best way for it is to relax the body, meditate or go on a walk in the forest.


Those days, most of us are afraid of cancer but not many know that we carry inside our bodies a natural and effective medicine that can destroy cancerous lesions. Those are Lymphoid cells of the immune system called also Natural Killers (NK) that can detect and destroy virus-infected cells or even tumor cells. One of the Japanese studies has shown that NK cell levels raises during contact with nature which means that by regular walking in the forest or park the risk of cancer is reduced. It is recommended to go on a walk at least once a week to keep the NK cell level high. In Japan, forest baths are considered both a pro-health preventive therapy and a way to strengthen patients after operations and diseases.



Shintoism


The religion of many Japanese people is Shintoism, animistic religion that assumes the existence of spirits or deities that appear to humans through plants, mountains, rivers, or other inanimate objects. This causes big respect for nature in the Japanese culture. Although Japan is one of the most developed countries in the world and has one of the largest megalopolis, forests and mountains still cover 67 percent of its territory. In Shintoism, human is part of the natural world so it's important to honor this force with all the cyclicity and changes that happen.


According to this tradition, there are Kami spirits that inhabit mountains, forests, rivers, plants, and all other spheres of the natural environment. They also manifest themselves in the form of earthquake storms or all kinds of natural disasters, and changes in the weather. The Japanese people worship these creatures, asking them for happiness, health, good harvest, etc.


This kind of belief, as well as traditions and rituals associated with it, are still present in the social life of Japanese people, which means that despite modernity and the development of advanced technologies, they are still able to cultivate a relationship with Mother Nature. That is why shinrin-yoku is popular and often practiced.



Elements of shinrin-yoku in Japanese culture


There is an interesting concept in Japanese culture called yugen. The exact translation of the word depends on the context. It is a word that describes the sense of depth. Or this is at least how I interpret this. We can experience yugen while meditating, contemplating art, looking at the stars, or listening to music. It is not the effect of visual beauty. This is what we feel when we lose the feeling of being separate and become aware that we are part of something greater than ourselves. This is what you might feel while connecting to nature. The big force that we are part.


The subject of admiration through Japanese people is also komorebi. This word describes diffused sunlight breaking through the leaves of the trees which creates unique shadows, the appearance of which depends on the tree species, humidity, or season. It is a beautiful dance of light and shade that nature creates. Looking for komorebi during a forest bath will be a good meditation exercise that may help you to immerse yourself in the mysterious world of nature and feel connected with it.


How to practice shinrin-yoku?


Simply, you can just go on a walk in the forest or park. But if you want to make this experience deeper and feel a connection with Mother Nature, make this walk an act of meditation. And these are some tips you might find helpful.

  1. Leave your phone at home to not distract yourself.

  2. I recommend going on a walk alone but if you have company, try to not talk with each other.

  3. Do not plan the path or set the destination. Let your intuition guide you and go with the flow.

  4. Go slowly with awareness of every step.

  5. Stop and look around when you feel like it.

  6. Listen to the sounds of the forest. Find the closest sounds and the ones that are far from you, in the background.

  7. Observe your breath.

  8. Let the thoughts come and go. But remember to stay in the present moment. If you catch your mind is putting attention to everyday worries, try to get back to your breath or the sounds around you.

  9. If it’s a sunny day, look for komorebi.


Immersing yourself in a forest bath can open up new spaces for you to stay with you. Maybe you can experience yugen. Check out yourself what may happen!


But even if you do not have the possibility to go to the forest, you can still practice shinrin-yoku. Because it is not about the forest. It is about contact with nature. If you live in a city, maybe you are able to find a green park in your area. Or maybe you have some plants in your house that might help to strengthen your connection with nature. It is better than nothing! Find your way adapted to your abilities and needs.



source:


All the information comes from the book Forest Bathing: The Rejuvenating Practice of Shinrin Yoku by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. I highly recommend checking it out if you would like to go deeper into the topic and find more tips.







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