Have you heard of forest bathing?  
    Imagine you’re walking through a lush green forest listening to the sounds, watching the running stream, and feeling the wind through the trees. This is Shinrin-yoku.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing”, or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. It’s an invitation to completely immerse ourselves in the embrace of a forest, taking in all the sights and sounds. The concept was formalised in Japan during the 1980s, and has subsequently become a cornerstone of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine. Could it work for us too?

  A form of nature therapy, Shinrin-yoku is becoming ever more popular. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life we need to give ourselves the space to unwind and relax. Just as mindfulness has risen to prominence across the world, we hope that people will increasingly see their local woodlands and forests as a place of peace.

Thinking about the concept now, after many of us have spent months isolated in lockdown, a walk in a lush green forest will likely sound very appealing. Deep down we have always known intuitively that spending time in nature offers a calming respite from the pressures of modern life. However, it’s only recently that scientific studies have begun to empirically prove the healing effects of being in wild and natural areas.

Recent studies show that forest bathing positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting our immune systems. In fact, in Japan there are already over 40 designated Shinrin-yoku forests, bringing with them associated health benefits for local populations. While we might not be able to replicate the exact forest environments of traditional japanese Shinrin-yoku forests, perhaps we should be looking to apply this principle in other countries and work to ensure every person has a local area that they can retreat to and walk in.

If you’re unsure about where to start, here are four tips on how to follow the practice of Shinrin-yoku yourself:

1. If you feel comfortable doing so, leave your phone and any other electronic distractions behind. This allows you to be fully present for the experience.

2. Try to leave behind any expectations of how you’ll feel, commit to wandering aimlessly and allow your body to travel where it wants.

3. Make sure to stop and acknowledge the details of the nearby vegetation or the sensory stimuli of walking, seeing and hearing. Listen to the birds, or the wind blowing through the trees.

4. If you go with friends or family, try to resist the urge to talk until you’ve finished your walk. You can share your experiences at the end.

At 10 Steps to Mars we want to encourage and motivate people to walk more. To us, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a city, forest or suburb. The important thing is that we use our legs more, and our cars less. In doing so we can help protect our health, and that of our forests, for future generations to come.

  Jan 4, 2021 - 3 min read  
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