When you walk into the forest, do you see a city of trees? Or do you see an ecosystem teeming with life both observable and microscopic? What you might not recognize immediately is the healing power of the forest—as a place to foster deeper connections with your sense of self, with the world at large, and with Mother Earth to arrive at a harmonious state of physical and mental well-being.
The healing art of forest-bathing, or shinrin-yoku, has been proven to improve focus and productivity, increase happiness, and boost immunity. In Japan, the healing power of forest-bathing is recognized as such a crucial part of mental and physical health that it was implemented as a part of their public health program in 1982. It's shown that spending time inhaling the phytoncides, or essential oils emitted by trees and plant life can help to improve immune system function as well as mood and overall well-being.
When was the last time that you took a break from work, or consciously stepped outside to spend time amongst the trees, to clear your mind and let nature revive and rejuvenate your soul? Whether it's just for 15 minutes or a few hours, studies have shown that time spent in the forest--breathing the air and enjoying the peaceful setting--can greatly improve mental and physical health.
Ashley Aarti Cooper, a yoga instructor and shinrin-yoku guide, says, “The principles of shinrin-yoku have really helped my clients become connected to their bodies, and the internal and external environments they inhabited. They reported greater presence, reduction in feelings of anxiety, better pain management, and an overall sense of well-being." She stresses the distinction between endurance or destination hiking and full immersion in the forest. Taking the time to contemplate your natural surroundings while enjoying the scenery, the smells, and the feel of the forest helps to focus the mind and rejuvenate the body.
As a physical, spiritual, and mental practice, Ashley says that "[Shinrin-yoku] puts everything in perspective when you see yourself as a being that is meant to be a part of the natural world. Take your shoes off, take your time, lean against an old tree and close your eyes in the sunshine. Just listen. Smell the cedars, taste the wood-mint, splash your face in a stream. Remember that you are just one tiny human with one fleeting life, and enjoy the freedom that comes with that knowledge."
When we examine our place in the natural world, the forest is both humbling and invigorating. Humans naturally belong in this landscape. By taking the time to unplug and immerse yourself in the calming presence of the forest, you can achieve the healing benefits of the outdoors that our ancestors have enjoyed for generations. So go ahead, and indulge yourself in a healing forest-bath. Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.