What is Shinrin-Yoku? And how does it contribute to our happiness?
How often do you go to the forest? Do you go at all? Do you spend time in nature and how does it make you feel? Ask yourself these questions, reflect on them and then read on.
In my fourth blog post about happiness, I had to include spending time in the forest. (Yes, that's literally what forest-bathing means, there's not bathing involved - which I thought at the beginning when I heard the name. Am I the only one? I literally thought it's about water bodies (e.g. lakes and rivers) in forests.) Shinrin-Yoku is the Japanese word for Forest Bathing. It's a concept that was invented in the 1980s in Japan. There are many Shinrin-Yoku retreats in Japan that are used for mental and physical wellbeing and treatment of depression and other illnesses. The founder Tomohide Akiyama stated that people needed to heal through nature (Li, p.58).
It was much later that it was scientifically proved that forest-bathing can boost the immune system, help you sleep, lower anxiety and depression, and has anti-cancer effects and contribute to a more relaxed state of mind and to more energy (Li, p.64).
In Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing, Dr Qing Li talks about the impact that trees have on us, and that the more time we spend with trees, the higher our natural killer cell activity becomes which prevents illnesses like cancer.
But even if I wouldn't know anything about Shinrin-Yoku, I know that in the forest I just feel like myself. I feel like I'm coming back home. I don't have to pretend, or do, or make anything. I don't have to constantly stress about doing more and more, or what my position in society is. I can just be. Be whoever I am - I don't need labels, I need not fear any judgments or rejections, I am not an outsider or different to anybody else. I feel like I belong. Exactly where I am and how I am. Sometimes life is overwhelming, there is so much that I want to achieve. I do a lot, all the time, and that's exactly why I think it's great to introduce myself to nature again. The moments when you think you don't have any time are exactly those moments when you need a break the most. And one activity that benefits me greatly is going to the forest.
Dr Qing Li describes in his book that 'Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world' (Li, p.15). It makes so much sense that we feel this total ease when we're surrounded by trees, touching leaves and the forest ground with our toes, smelling the hearty and nutty forest breeze and listening to the wind between the leaves whistling peacefully while the birds are singing a song only they understand.
Living in a city, it isn't always so easy for me to escape the everyday stress, the noise that resides in the city, with cars, too many people, and often too much negativity. That noise enters people's minds - constant thoughts pestering you, telling you who you are, how you're not good enough and why you should try harder and stop being a failure. This noise stops when you open your senses and enter the natural world - the world that we most naturally belong to. There is a word for our biological need to be in the forest - biophilia hypothesis. The American biologist E. O. Wilson introduced and popularised this concept in 1984. According to Wilson, our biological need to connect with nature comes from the fact that we evolved in nature. It is in our DNA to love nature because we learnt how to live and survive in it more than in any city (Li, p.14).
I started one month ago to go to the forest or the botanics at least once a week, and I'll continue to stick with it because I can only tell you how much better I feel. Sometimes, you don't want to make the effort to walk half an hour to the botanics or take the 15 minute bus drive to the forest but once you're there, you know exactly why you needed to be there. And then, I just feel like I never want to leave again, like I could just lie in a bed of leaves forever.
And I ask you to join me - go to a place where you have plants and trees, ideally the forest but it can be a botanical garden or your local park too. Another thing you can do is to bring the forest to your home! Surround yourself with plants, use essential oils from trees, and listen to nature sounds.
Once a week for the next month go forest-bathing and see how you feel. You will very likely experience a change in your mood, your thoughts, your wellbeing. Thank me later ;)
I quickly want to ask you all how you're finding the Happiness Series so far? Is it helping you in any way, changing your life? I got lots of lovely comments from you on my Instagram, especially about my meditation challenge! And this made me super happy. I'm still working on a meditation ebook that I can soon send to my subscribers :) So if you haven't subscribed yet, you can do this under my 'home' or 'work with me' sections. This is my April post even though I know I am a bit late with this. My May blog post for my Happiness series is JOURNALING and will come out by the end of this month!
Much love, Viki
Dr Qing Li, 2018, Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest-Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, London: Penguin Random House.