Ditch the city, escape to the wild, and bond with nature—with the Japanese philosophy of shinrin-yoku. By Tanvi Jain
Imagine walking barefoot in a dense, green forest, breathing in fresh air, feeling moist grass under your feet, listening to the rustling of leaves, and the chirping of birds, and take in a melange of earthy aromas—isn’t just the thought of this therapeutic?
To put it simply, forest bathing is the act of spending quality time in a forest. It works on the principles of mindfulness and meditation, takes you to another level of corporeal awareness, and helps you open all your senses to natural surroundings. Popularly known as shinrin-yoku, this phenomenon started in Japan in 1982 as a part of a public health programme, which sought to spread awareness about the health benefits of nature. The term shinrin-yoku was first coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The purpose was to provide an antidote to technology and inspire people to protect forests.
It’s not to be confused with running, jogging, or trekking; it’s simply the act of taking a slow walk in the forest to soak up its medicinal qualities. With time,various studies across the globe have proven that forest bathing holds the key to solving many health problems.
Currently, Japan has around 62 forest bases and trails, and each one has a healing feature of its own. Almost two-thirds of the country is covered in forest. There are even experts to help you understand the concept of forest bathing and how it helps one connect with nature through all the five senses.
Improving the cardiovascular and immune systems, stabilising mood, reducing blood pressure, stabilising salivary cortisol and heart rate, and controlling diabetes, are some of the many health benefits that forest bathing offers.
Apart from Japan, the practice has gained popularity in countries like Sweden, UK, USA, and South Korea too, and has recently started trending in India as well. Adirondack Mountains in New York, Monteverde in Costa Rica, Waipoua Forest in New Zealand, and Kitich Forest Camp in Kenya are some of the best nature sites that offer forest bathing.
Meanwhile, in India, you can practice shirin-yoku in Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Zeilad in Manipur, Agumbe in Karnataka, Sacred Groves in Meghalaya, Silent Valley in Kerala, Binsar and Chopta in Uttarakhand, and Shola Forests in Western Ghats.
How To Go About It?
All you need to do is find a trail in a forest, leave your phone, camera and all other gadgets, walk slowly, and let your senses guide you instead of the GPS. Just follow the various aromas and sounds of the woods. You don’t have to worry about reaching anywhere because the idea is to walk slowly and aimlessly, listening to birdsong, admiring
the greenery and the sunlight peeking through the branches, and inhale the earthy aroma of the trees. This helps improve your hearing power, vision, and sense of smell. It also boosts your concentration and reduces stress. The calm of the forest gives you a break from the daily hustle and soothes your senses.
However, taking a forest walk under expert guidance is always recommended as the professional can help you find the right spot according to your health needs, keep a check on your speed, and tell you where to stop and relax, and also enlighten you with its benefits.
There are various institutes in India that conduct forest walks under expert guidance. They also have special courses that delve into the concept of forest bathing. DElotus Advaya Holistic Health Solutions Pvt. Ltd in Rishikesh, Wellnessence-Holistic Healing, Conscious Living in Pune, and Swechha in New Delhi are some of the institutes that conduct forest walks led by experts like Acharya Neeraj, Anna Zimmer and Navneesh Makkad, who strongly prescribe natural healing over Western medicine.
Holistic health guru, Acharya Neeraj, says, “The human body is designed to be healed by nature, but the problem is that we have made ourselves too distant from it. No one wants to understand and be close to nature anymore.”
Biophilia hypothesis, which means love of life and the living world, suggests that human beings possess a tendency to create connection with nature. However, with increasing dependence on technology, this drive is declining.
Further throwing light on how forest bathing works, Neeraj adds, “As we take a walk in nature, we soak in phytoncide, a substance released by plants and trees, which affects our overall health.”
Phytoncides are airborne chemicals that have antibacterial and antifungal qualities, and help plants fight insects. When we breathe in these chemicals, our body responds by increasing the number and activity of natural killer cells, or NK cells, which is a type of white blood cell that kills tumours and other virus-infected cells in our body. Studies have shown increased NK activity after just two-three days of forest bathing.
Decreased risk of heart attack, resistance to obesity, more energy and better sleep, mood-boosting effects, decreased inflammation, clearer skin, relief for sore muscles, lower risk of cancer, and faster recovery from illness are some of the benefits of forest bathing.
According to various studies conducted across the globe, people suffering from asthma, eczema, psoriasis, and osteoarthritis have also shown major improvement after undertaking forest bathing expeditions.
Terpene, an organic compound found in essential oils of some plants, especially conifers, has been proven to be effective against inflammation in brain, liver, and pancreas. Borneol terpene, found in cannabis, helps protect against degenerative brain diseases that stem from inflammation, like Alzheimer’s.
The sound of silence is so subtle that we can’t register it. The idea behind forest bathing is to deploy all the five senses equally, which not only helps enhance them but also makes us more aware of our surroundings,” explains Neeraj.
Sharing a personal experience, Neeraj recalls, “Around seven-eight years ago, I had a disease that almost crippled me. Different doctors had different opinions. So I decided to try forest bathing, and within three days, my condition improved. It’s high time we start conserving our forests, otherwise no city will be worth living in in 10 years. The problem is that we feel we are superior to nature. We need to reconnect with nature and find a lost link between humans and nature.”
In his book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, immunologist and forest medicine expert, Dr Qing Li, says that the society suffers from nature deficit disorder, where people spend a majority of their time indoors and are unable to connect with nature. In the book, he describes how forest bathing can boost both health and happiness of a person.
Forest bathing seems to be the need of the hour. Considering the dangerously rising pollution level in our cities, and the rapid tech boom, it’s high time every individual adopts the practice and works towards spreading awareness about the power of trees and the need to conserve forests.