How to Forest Bathe – and Why!

Woman Forest Bathing

This morning, at 7am, I was out on my patio meditating. Just 30 minutes to calm my mind and set myself up for the day. And I found myself falling into an old habit – of tuning out my other senses to just focus on hearing, and listening to the birds.

And I was suddenly transported back 20 years ago, when I worked in the City of London (England). The last part of my morning commute was a 25 minute walk up from London Bridge Train Station. This is the area where you’ll find the famous Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and it’s also where the Great Fire of London started (in Pudding Lane!). The whole area is steeped in history – without much green space…

Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden, London

Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden, London

I would vary my walk, taking random roads heading in the right sort of direction (North and East) and got to know the area very well. Then, one morning I discovered a wondrous tiny little ‘park’ in between some office buildings. It was maybe 30 feet wide and perhaps 150 feet long.

There were benches, a church “ruin” and old street lights. And on this particular morning I remember being startled to hear birdsong. Over the traffic and construction! This little bird was singing its heart out – and I found myself wondering how many songbirds lived in this part of London – where trees and parks are few and far between.

After that, I made it a daily ‘meditation’ to listen out for the birds. Of course I didn’t have a meditation practice then, and hadn’t discovered coaching or therapy! But looking back, that’s what it was. Over time I learned how many birds there were – everywhere – when I paid attention!

Of course where I live now we have a huge variety of song and other birds. This morning I heard the raven’s wings as he did his morning flyover. I listened as the hummingbird hovered behind me to feed on the “hummingbird vine”. It was magical.

Now I know not everyone lives in a rural area, but that’s why I shared the story of my morning commute to work all those years ago. London is full of cars, traffic fumes and grey buildings, yet nature found a home.

Nature is uplifting. Period.

Nature is all encompassing, finding it’s way into the most unhospitable places on earth.

I find it strangely comforting to remember that nature is everywhere, and will endure long after our ‘small’ problems have dissolved and disappeared.

But we have to pay attention.

I think much of our pain in the modern world comes from losing our connection to the natural world. We get caught up in our goals, our devices, what he or she did or didn’t say, what’s new on Netflix – or the latest pandemic updates.

We must remember we’re a part of nature!

It’s only a few short thousand years since we were running around naked, hunting and gathering.

Nature gives us the opportunity to settle into ourselves, be fully present and let go of all our human-created problems and strivings. Then we can re-connect to something bigger and deeper than ourselves.

And this brings me to this week’s theme of “Forest Bathing”

Shockingly, the United Nations Population Division, says that by 2050 three quarters of the world’s population will live in cities. We have coined a new term: “Nature Deficit Disorder” as people spend more time than ever before indoors – and on devices.

So, if you’re tired of the constant chatter in your brain or “go-go-go” of your life, forest bathing is a great way to let go of the need to always be doing. Instead of trying to perfect life and yourself, we can take a moment to see the beauty of what is already there, around us all the time – nature.

Common to many cultures – in Japan it’s called shinrin-yoku, in Sweden, friluftsliv and in Germany, waldeinsamkeit.

The best way to deal with stress at work is to go for a forest bath. I go for shinrin-yoku every lunchtime. You don’t need a forest; any small green space will do. Leave your cup of coffee and your phone behind and just walk slowly. You don’t need to exercise, you just need to open your senses to nature. It will improve your mood, reduce tension and anxiety, and help you focus and concentrate for the rest of the day. Dr Qing Li

The benefits of forest bathing

According to research shared in Dr Li’s book on forest bathing, not only does forest bathing reduce stress – lowering blood pressure and heart rate, it’s also been shown to increase energy, reduce anxiety and improve both our mood – and our sleep…

And it might not just be the act of forest bathing is relaxing. Plant phytoncides – natural oils produced by trees to protect them from bugs, fungi and bacteria – may also positively impact our health. Combined of course with the higher concentration of oxygen found in a forest.

In fact Japan has a national program designed to encourage people to forest bathe in order to lower stress and boost health!

Want to give Forest Bathing a try?

***If you’re stuck inside because of COVID, see the special instructions below***

Preparing to Forest Bathe…

  • While you DO need a willingness to slow down and reconnect, you DON’T need to do anything. Let go of your plans and worries and just BE.
  • It’s about attuning to your surroundings, and using your five senses to notice what is there, and in the process remember who and what you are – just another part of nature.
  • Forest bathing is alone time: a beautiful solitude. So, no companions – unless they’re also forest bathing!
  • Leave your responsibilities and devices behind.

How to “Forest Bathe”Mushroom discovered while forest bathing

First, you don’t need a forest. Simply choose a green area that appeals to you – it can be a city park, your own backyard or something else. And although silence and complete solitude is ideal – it doesn’t have to be quiet or have no humans in for you to reconnect.

  1. Give yourself at least 20 minutes, ideally 30+ minutes.
    • Spend as much as 3-4 hours for maximum benefit.
  2. Just wander slowly – and aimlessly; don’t think, instead let your heart/unconscious decide where to go.
  3. Tune into your five senses:
    • SIGHT: As you pay attention to your natural surroundings, what do you notice with your eyes? What colour is the sky? The leaves? Is the colour uniform or different to last week? Can you see a beetle or millipede or snail on the ground? A hard-working bee?
    • HEARING: We’re used to using our sight but you could try, like I described above, to focus on your hearing. De-prioritise your sense of sight and focus on listening. Can you hear birds singing/croaking? The rustling as squirrels climb a tree?
    • FEELING: What can you feel? A breeze, the sun on your skin, speckles of rain? Lie on the ground, touch a tree, pick up a fallen leaf, engage with the nature around you.
    • SMELL: What can you smell? If you’re in a park or actual forest, great. If you’re in a city, or indoors, perhaps you can smell a flower or leaf or two.
    • TASTE: And what can you taste? Fresh air? a snowflake?

Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Dr Qing Li

Some Forest Bathing Tips

  • There is no purpose here – other than to relax and enjoy yourself.
  • It’s also OK to sit down and simply absorb your environment. Or take a journal and write freely. Or do some tai chi or yoga.
  • Stay away from “thinking and planning” – be in your body and connect to the environment around you.
  • Immerse yourself! Go slowly, and notice the details, the small things you might normally gloss over.
  • If you find yourself having thoughts, that’s fine. Simply acknowledge them – then let them go, and refocus on your senses.
  • And as you slow down and unfold your senses, you will find that you naturally come home to yourself and connect to the natural world.

Forest Bathing BookFeeling inspired to learn more about Forest Bathing?

Read Dr Qing Li’s book: “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness”

Available on Amazon.com here, or better yet, order from your local bookseller who will appreciate your support!

How to “Forest Bathe” if you can’t go outside

Gorgeous Forest Image for Forest BathingIf you’re stuck inside because of COVID, you’ll need to use your imagination more.

You may be able to open a window and listen/look for birds, or you could study your indoor plant for colour and depth, smell the flowers in a vase.

But you can go beyond that; our imaginations are a powerful thing.

PRO TIP: For helpful ideas to get started, begin by looking at a beautiful forest image. Coffee table books are perfect, or search Google for “lush forest images” and click on “images” to see lots of gorgeous forest images to inspire you. See grey box at the bottom of this post for examples!

Try this for 10 minutes:

  • Take a few deep breaths to start, and connect with your body.
  • Now close your eyes and imagine a forest in its full splendour. Is it tropical or temperate? What do you see? (eg. Birds, flowers, vines, maybe monkeys!) What can you hear? (eg. Frogs, crickets, running water). What can you feel? (eg. Humidity – a shaft of sunlight on your skin, a gentle breeze). What can you smell? (eg. Rich earth, pine needles, tropical flowers). And what can you taste? (eg. Cedar, grass or clean mountain air)
  • If you prefer, remember a favourite garden or park. What can you see, hear, feel, smell and taste here?
  • As above, go slowly, and get into the details. Live it. Feel it. Be there. What’s underneath that log or stone? Around that corner? Can you imagine dipping your toe in some water?
  • Have fun, enjoy and play with it.

Whilst not the same as the “real thing”, the benefit of the imagined natural world – whether forest, garden or park – is that you can go back there whenever you want.

And it’s a fabulous way to calm down and reconnect fast – wherever you are…

The art of forest bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses. All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest. Dr Qing Li

Wrap-up

Fierce Kindness is about connection: to ourselves, our broader community and our larger world.

One of the “positives” of COVID has been that with fewer commitments and less socialising, we’ve turned to the outdoors more.

And once we’re outdoors, even in cities, we can find nature. The possibilties and wonder of nature are an important part of our larger world that many of us have lost “touch” with – or at least lost our sense of belongingness with.

So, next time you’re outside on a hike or in “green space”, perhaps you’ll consider “forest bathing” and deepen your human connection to the natural world.

“Change the world, start with you!”

If you liked this article on forest bathing, you may also like:

PS. If you’re interested, you can go here for a link to some medical research – although annoyingly the first abstract is from a study following middle-aged males! Are we still just studying one gender?

Example of “lush forest image” search:

Type in “lush forest image” and choose image results (red circle).

Forest Bathing Image Examples

Image of Woman Forest Bathing by Tobias Rademacher via Unsplash

Image of London Church Garden by Vincent Creton via Unsplash

Image of Mushroomg discovered while Forest Bathing by https://unsplash.com/@michael957 via Unsplash

Image of Misty Trees by Simon Berger via Unsplash

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