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Forest bathing - an introduction

The key to preserving our forests lies in the connection we have to maintain. (...) When we feel connected to nature, we also want to protect her.

Dr. Qing Li

Forest Bathing

Ein Wald zum Waldbaden

When I heard of "forest bathing" for the first time I was instantly intrigued. Because it combines two of my favorite words, the forest and bathing. Even though the latter isn't necessarily meant literally. I have been living in the mountains for over three years, as close to nature as ever, and it's the forest and the river, who call me daily. I entered an apprenticeship with nature, which will probably last my whole life. Finding this connection to the most ancient and true part of me here was something I unconsciously hoped for, but didn't expect. Even more stunned am I that life has guided me here, into the arms of the forest.

Last fall I started a new training to become a forest bathing instructor. Even though I have been forest bathing all along, without naming what I do in the forest up until now, I'm interested in a deeper examination of the Japanese practice. And because my online magazine is all about the connection to nature and conserving her, I would like to introduce you today to forest bathing. At the end you'll find some simple practices you might want to take with you the next time you're going outside. But let me tell you for starters: You don't have to be living close to a forest, you can even take a forest bath in a park!

Furthermore I'm excited to announce that I have Annette Bernjus as a guest in the next nature conversation interview. She is one of the firsts to ever have published a book about forest bathing in Germany.

So let's dive in!

What is forest bathing?

Forest bathing is more than just a walk through the forest. It's being in nature, mindfully and without a goal. While bathing in the forest you dive into the atmosphere of the forest with all your senses. The expression stems from the Japanese word "Shinrin Yoku", which means, you guessed it, forest bathing (it's to be noted, though, that bathing isn't considered to mean the literal bath in water here, but bathing in the air of the forest).

While forest bathing you take a lot of intentional time for yourself and for nature. You don't listen to music, you don't speak on the phone and you don't see this time as a workout. You stroll and linger every now and again. Slowness and mindfulness are the key words here.

Nebliger Wald

The effect

Dr. Qing Li is at the forefront of the forest medicine and explored the practice from a scientific point of view. I want to mention that here, because scientific studies are often more respected in our society than pure intuitive feeling or spiritual woo-woo. But I assume that you can confirm it from your own experience: Spending time in nature is amazing on several different levels. Not only are you breathing the fresh air and moving your body, but it also has the welcome effect to help with worries and is therefore balm for the soul. And that exactly was confirmed by numerous studies. A mindful stay in a forest has a positive effect on our mental health and on our nervous and immune system. Because we slow down and open our senses we reach a state of mind similar to meditation, which affects our psyche positively. Furthermore there is research that shows that the colour green, which is prevalent in a forest, has a calming and healing effect.

Trees produce terpenes, scented messengers which they use to communicate with each other. And we inhale these terpenes. You can smell them on a warm summer day in the woods. They are recognizable through that typical scent of the forest. And they are responsible for enhancing your immune system when taking a bath in the forest.

How does it work?

Take your time, that's the most important thing. I recommend at least an hour, more is of course good, too. You need a place you feel comfortable and safe in. If you have a forest close by, great. But also the edge of the woods, a meadow, a body of water or even the city park are suitable for a forest bath. Of course it's best when you have a quiet place undisturbed by people and the noises of civilization. But please note: You can forest bathe almost everywhere where there are signs of nature.

And then you stroll. You take your time to observe your surroundings with as many senses as possible. You linger, you might want to sit down and if you want more guidance, you can try one of the following exercises.

Open your senses

Find a place in nature where you can stand or sit comfortably and undisturbed for a little while. Close your eyes and take your time to observe your breath and to arrive here. Focus on your sense of hearing. What do you hear? You will observe without judgment. Can you also hear underneath the obvious and superficial noises?

Next you concentrate on your sense of smell. What do you smell? Stay here for a moment and take your time to perceive the world with your senses, especially those we don't use that often.

Give space to your sense of touch. What do you feel? How does your skin feel? If you're sitting on the earth, explore the soil, the gras, a tree with your hands.

Only now you'll open your eyes. What do you see? Observe the different hues of colour surrounding you. Widen your gaze and see the whole, then narrow your field of vision and concentrate only on a small section.

And lastly - but here you have to fell very, very safe - you can activate your tastebuds. If you're finding something edible close by (for example a berry or a blossom), you can put it in your mouth and taste it. But please only try this when you're absolutely certain you're not eating something toxic!

Hugging a tree

Hugging a tree

Find a tree you like and do exactly that: hug it. If you like you can really wrap your whole body around the tree trunk. Perhaps you'll press your forehead on the bark and stay like that for a few minutes. Not only are you gifted with a sense of security and connection with the tree by hugging it, but your skin being in direct touch with the bark receives again those precious terpenes. If you don't feel comfortable hugging the tree with your whole body, you can simply place your palms on the tree trunk and stay like that for a while.

Walking barefoot in the forest
Walking barefoot

For this exercise it's best to walk on a natural path, but of course it's also fine if you do it on paved terrain. Our feet are enclosed too often and therefore this exercise isn't just very effective, but can also be liberating.

Take off your shoes and socks and walk a part of your path barefoot. The main focus is again on being mindful. Walk slowly and observe how the earth, the moss, the gras, the stones, the roots feel underneath the soles of your feet.

Sources and resources:

Dr. Qing Li - Forest Bathing, how the trees can help you find health and happiness

Annette Bernjus - Waldbaden, Mit der heilenden Kraft der Natur sich selbst neu entdecken (it's available in German and Spanish)

An alternative could be:

M. Amos Clifford - Your guide to forest bathing, Experience the healing power of nature

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