Forest Bathing for Mental Health & Chronic Illness

I was doing a guided meditation through my meditation app (Calm) a few weeks ago and the concept of shinrin-yoku was introduced. This translates to forest bathing. I did a blog on nature therapy back in the summer I believe, and this kind of ties in with that, but I thought I’d like to explore this concept further because I find it really interesting. As someone who is not religious, and I usually say my spirituality revolves around the Force (for you fellow Star Wars fans), but in reality I find that immersing myself in nature can be a very spiritual experience. It can also be a very healing experience, more emotionally than physically (though depending on exactly how you are immersed it can be both).

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, May 2019

The idea of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, is to just be in nature. To come into contact with it in a mindful way, using your five senses. Anywhere there is a forest, you can do this practice. In a lot of ways it is similar to being mindful in other experiences. For example, if you take a mindful walk, even if you live in the city. The advantage of forest bathing is that you are removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, and can truly experience nature and its natural healing powers. I know this might sound a little woo-woo to some of you, but there is a lot of evidence for benefits to both our mental and physical health. Click this link for a study on how it can improve cardiovascular health. Not only can you do this practice in almost every country, you can do it in any weather (assuming you’re not opposed to certain weather).

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, 2019. Isn’t it adorable?!

Like I mentioned there have been shown to be benefits for mental health, and there are many nature therapists out there. Here’s a link to find them. Interestingly, that link also has another link to training in it for therapists so now I’m thinking that might be interesting for me to take. Of course, you can also just go and be in nature alone or with a friend. Looking back at my trip to Costa Rica, I realize that my friend Nikki (check out her podcast episode here) and I did a lot of this forest bathing there. Though there were times where we’d pull out of cameras and take pictures, or we’d chat as we hiked, there were many times where we’d just walk and experience nature (yes, using all five senses) in these amazing rainforests. That whole trip was extremely healing and amazing for me, but I didn’t realize until recently that (a) I was forest bathing for parts of it, and (b) that just being away from the city was so powerful for me (and this is coming from someone who LOVES big city life).

To be honest, I’m not even sure where we were in Costa Rica, but it was somewhere near Manuel Antonio.

Here’s how to forest bathe:

  • go without technology, or at least, keep your phone/camera/etc out of reach (I have a small hiking backpack that is very useful for this)
  • you don’t have to have a purpose, the point is to just be. So walk, explore, enjoy.
  • take the time to really examine nature closely with your eyes
  • notice what the ground feels like beneath you as you walk, or even touch a tree and notice what that is like for you.
  • take some time to sit and listen to nature
  • also breathe it in, what does it smell like?
  • taste the air around you – likely it’s quite different than when you’re in the city
  • and try not to talk to anyone while you’re doing it
I definitely used all 5 senses in the Cloud Forest.

If you’ve done some forest bathing, I would love to hear your experience with it! Remember mindfulness leads to contacting the present moment, which has huge benefits on your overall health. Keep making the most of it everyone!

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