By Lynn Cadet

Picture yourself in a large, green forest surrounded by massive trees that are so tall you have to squint to see their tops. A breeze whistles past; and, its cooling presence swirls around you, landing on your skin. Or maybe a bird flies by, its caw echoing through the vast landscape. And the smell of fresh earth and damp wood tickles your nose making you want to draw in a deep, clean breath. Are you feeling more relaxed yet? Well, I sure am!

If you’re looking for a new way to indulge in some R&R, let me introduce you to forest bathing, a therapy that utilises nature’s elements for healing. You’ve probably exhausted every type of socially distanced wellness method known to humankind in recent months. I certainly have! 

Let’s see…there was baking, meditation, exercising, mindful eating, bubble baths, etc. etc.. I have definitely stopped to smell the roses myself over the past several months, trying to take in the meaning and beauty of life. But Forest bathing takes this notion to another level in a simple way. Also known as shinrin-yoku,it originated in Japan and it has become a vital tool for preventative healthcare in the region. 

Not to be confused with the act of meditation or a nature appreciation hike, it constitutes an immersion of all the senses. Take your five senses on a spin as you wander through the forestry terrain with no destination in mind. The forest “bathes” you in all of its glory and leaves you feeling calm and restored. This simple task can help reshape the way you experience nature. And if you live near wild trees as I do, even the typical woods bordering your house will be calling your name when you embrace forest therapy.

With its benefits scientifically studied, we can count on its legitimacy in the therapy department. While I have taken several nature hikes in the past, I never stopped to have a full sensory experience in these areas, unless it was to take in the magnificent view of a landmark or waterfall. Forest bathing chases the simplicity of it all; and, that is something we could all use when escaping from the often stressful or complicated lives we have. 

The Quiet Beginnings Of Shinrin-Yoku

On the tails of Japan’s growing tech boom in 1980, the origins of forest bathing as a therapeutic practice began. The government gradually noticed the adverse effects the urban and tech work culture was having on their people, including depression, headaches, distractions, and other pain. The cities were quickly losing green space and overloaded by noise and other sensory pollution. Forest bathing was suggested as a type of therapy or escape for the senses, allowing people to stimulate their sensory intake and calm down in a moment of peace. 

The accessibility of shinrin-yoku is one reason that makes it so effective and popular in its country of origin. You can spend little to no money to access forest bathing, and its gentleness makes it ideal for all ages. If it’s your first time, no need to worry about going at it alone as there are many shinrin-yoku centres to choose from. A guide takes you or a group into stunning green forests and teaches you when and how to stop and appreciate the nature around you. A lovely tea ceremony could even be waiting for you when you get back. Whether you’re going on your lonesome or with a guided group, Japan’s impeccable range of national parks is at your disposal with sacred forests, visual movie inspirations, and more qualities to experience.

Benefits Of Forest Bathing

When you connect deeply with nature and take a break from urban life, you find life-changing benefits. Studies show that 20 minutes of sitting and observing forest scenery reduces cortisol, a stress hormone, by over 13% more than in an urban setting. Research also shows that our creative problem-solving improves after this practice. Other benefits include:

  • Increased body immunity
  • Enhanced amounts and efficacy of our body’s natural killer cells against cancer
  • Improved maintenance of blood glucose 
  • Better sleep quality
  • Reduced blood pressure

Growing Popularity In Singapore And Beyond

You no longer have to travel to Japan to experience shinrin-yoku. Its popularity has spread across six continents, including Southeast Asia. Singapore’s growing community of trainers and classes, certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) which certifies guides worldwide, is a prime example. Xiu Nature Connections, situated in the city, combines forest bathing and yoga nidra, a yogic sleep, into their therapy methods. You can leave your work life and pressing responsibilities behind to take on the calming relaxation in their classes.

I don’t know about you; but, forest bathing will definitely be on my R&R bucket list. A chance to relish some restful time with no phone or responsibilities, simply connecting with the beauty and meaning of nature? Count me in!