Forest bathing: a way to reconnect and recharge
I’m a self-designated city mouse. I love strolling back alleys, seeing street art on buildings, and finding a random trivia night to attend. Living in the city provides accessibility to a certain liveliness that I enjoy.
But did you notice that most of what I described are external features of a city?
The truth is, we Canadians spend over 90% of our day indoors. I can attest to this. We recently moved to a new city and spent the first two weeks exploring all that our new home has to offer. And then school and work kicked off and we settled ourselves indoors.
That’s the thing about life; we often get so busy that we forget to explore and connect with the things we enjoy. When I get busy and spend too much time inside, I notice things that I usually enjoy start bothering me. It’s around this time that I want to ditch the city entirely and go on an adventure.
What I am really seeking is an opportunity to slow down, connect, and get back outside.
This feeling aligns with the goals of something called forest-bathing. My first exposure with the term forest-bathing was while reviewing evidence-based mental health practices at work. My mind jumped to the same place yours likely did...
I imagined hordes of nudists frolicking amongst the foliage of Canada’s National Parks.
As I dove into the research, I found that the concepts of forest-bathing align with a quirk consistent amongst Canadians. Have you ever been chatting with someone from another country and they ask “what’s the deal with Canadians and campfires?”; I think the answer is forest-bathing.
So, what is forest-bathing anyways?
Forest-bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is the practice of immersing yourself in nature. Forest-bathing emerged in Japan during the 1980s as a preventative health-care measure; it encouraged residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s environment while also offering an eco-antidote to burnout.
According to Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees can Help you Find Health and Happiness, forest-bathing is not traversing a mountain or going for a hike, it’s not even exercise! It is simply being in nature and connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
Shinrin-yoku opens our senses, forcing us to unplug, slow down, and connect with the present moment.
Forest-bathing has had its fair share of research highlighting its physiological and psychological benefits. Empirical research suggests forest-bathing may:
Support cardiovascular health
Lower blood pressure
Reduce feelings of depression and anxiety
Increase state of mental relaxation, gratitude and selflessness
Forest-bathing is unlikely to be the miracle cure to all that ails you, and you shouldn’t replace your medication with a regular walk in the woods. But a small amount of time in nature can have a positive impact on your health (and there is the added bonus that you might see some cute wildlife).
Keep in mind, that forest-bathing does not have to be an elaborate trip.
Dr. Qing Li suggests that the key to forest-bathing is connection. Here are some of his essentials for practising Shinrin-yoku:
Leave your distractions behind: no phone or electronics allowed
Find a place in nature you connect with
Go slow and take your time
Use your senses to tune into your environment
Slowing down enough to connect our senses with nature can have a calming effect which translates to reduced stress and improved overall health.
I also think this is why we get stoked on campfires. When we have a campfire, we settle down and bask in the warmth of the flame; we are enamoured with the crackling and glowing of the embers; the smoke weaving its scent into our clothes and hair reminds us of the event for days that follow.
Campfires are a mini forest-bath; a means to connect in both nature and our own backyard.
We don’t always have the option to cruise out to the woods whenever we’re feeling stressed. But exploring green spaces in your hometown can offer opportunities to reconnect with nature. For those of us in Canada, we are fortunate that our cities embrace aspects of nature, creating tiny reserves of solitude within the hubbub of the city.
Leave your phone at home and take a stroll along the Meewasin Trail in Saskatoon, listen to the sounds of the open ocean at Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park, or book a firepit in Edmonton’s Emily Murphy Park.
Have a favourite place in nature to connect? Let us know in the comments below. And for those times when the deadlines are looming, tune into one of Little Symphony’s playlists featuring sounds of nature from all over the world. We have one for forest bathing at home and even have an album with campfire crackles so you don’t have to worry about bears.