The Gentle Art of Forest Bathing
"....for we are but strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers, our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding...."
In Japanese and Mandarin it is called Shinrin-yoku. In Korean it is Sanyimlok. In English these terms translate literally to mean "forest bathing" or the gentle art of immersing oneself in nature. Also referred to as nature or forest therapy, studies have shown spending time, even just a few minutes, in a natural setting calms nerves, lowers blood pressure and improves sleep patterns.
Of course the Japanese would be the ones to turn spending time in a forest into a ritual. They are, after all, some of the most stressed out people on the planet. This is the society that invented the idea of capsule hotels, so it is no wonder Shinrin-yoku has become widely embraced as a cornerstone of Japanese holistic medicine for overworked and overstressed people.
Now you know we never miss an opportunity to extoll the benefits of fine country living here at the Farm, and here is clinical proof that spending just a few minutes a day in a wild place can ease the stresses of daily living and put you back on your path to living a clean, serene and healthy life.
Shinrin-yoku is something more than just taking a random walk in the woods, however. Line the tenets of many Asian disciplines, Shinrin-yoku is a deliberate and conscious act. It is a ritual and should be performed in a ritualistic fashion in order to be fully beneficial; and in order to be mindful in the forest, we must first be mindful of what we are leaving behind.
So what would the perfect place to practice Shinrin-yoku look like? Ideally one would have a place in the country or the woods where you can bolt when the need to cleanse your life arises - someplace private and quiet and cool and verdant. However, not everyone is so fortunate or lives close enough to a rural area to do this. But every city and suburb has some green sanctuary, some quiet corner where you can hear the birds and see nothing but jade-green leaf canopy if you look up. Few, if any people in the picture would be ideal, so you may need to consider an early morning hour to engage in your bathing ritual.
Preparing to partake in the ritual is, in and of itself, an integral part of the process. Assuming you have previously identified an ideal place in which to bathe yourself amongst the trees, you must then begin the process of deliberately peeling away the physical trappings of modern life which bind us all to technology - our cellphones, our fitness watches, our ipods, our kindles. We must toss aside the heavy purse, kick off the high heels and loosen the uncomfortable clothing. Could you practice Shinrin-yoku naked? If you can find a safe and appropriate place to do so, then yes, we would imagine that to be ideal.
After the physical preparations come the mental preparations of engaging in the ritual. Psychologists love to tell us to clear our minds if we want to relax. Well, how can we do that with mobile phones pinging, texts flying, children crying and bosses breathing down our necks? These elements need to be completely stripped away before we can even think about a blank slate in our heads.
Now, here is the hardest part - actually scheduling the time and showing up to soak up all those natural vibes into your core. Shinrin-yoku is not about physical exercise - take slow, deliberate steps and meaningful cleansing breaths. Stop and stare at something that catches your eye. Westerners, primarily for cultural reasons, have lost the ability to unselfconsciously stare and something and truly study it. Shinrin-yoku is your time to re-discover the lost art of staring.
Shinrin-yoku time is also time to engage your other senses. Close your eyes and feel the wind on your skin. Take off your shoes and snuggle your toes into the grass or soft loam. Eat some the ripe wild raspberries along the verges. Hum along to the bird song. Sit for a spell and just be.
This is what the ritual of Shinrin-yoku looks like - you - existing in the natural world with no pretense or preconceived notions. You are but a sojourner here, as were all our fathers. Now, head on out to the forest and take a bath.
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