There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more. ~Lord Byron
Cracking the window, the smell washed over me. It wasn’t an offensive scent, as a skunk might force into my nasal passages. It was the smell of clean air and of the gentle breeze pressing the scent of rain into my senses. Earlier in the evening, I had shot an expectant look at my husband. “Do you hear it?” I asked. With fresh batteries behind his ears, I thought he might have heard it first. Hidden deep in the memories of my childhood was the knowing radar for nature as it burst from the dark clouds and began to beat gently on the roof in something of a dance. Though not in the pathless woods or the lonely shore, I still found a society where none intrudes. Lord Byron would have been proud of the time I took to enjoy Nature more, loving man none the less.
Growing up in a heavily wooded area, I knew oaks and poison ivy well and had an imagination as full as the treehouse allowed. From the wooden structure perched amidst the trees, I loved to hear the sounds of nature, and as I’ve lived among people in neighborhoods, busy cities, and full calendars, I recognize how important it is to return to the pleasure of the pathless woods. It’s so difficult at times to leave the comfort of home or the pile of papers at the office, isn’t it? But what if you knew without a doubt that experiencing nature could change your life for the better? Would you be willing to adjust your schedule? Would you be willing to bathe in it?
Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese name for forest-bathing. Yes, you read that correctly. You don’t need soap or shampoo, not even a towel, and you keep your clothes on (if you choose), but you will come away with a clean unlike any other. It was in 1982 that Japan began teaching her citizens about forest-bathing in the Akasawa forest. Shinrin-yoku was believed to be healing through nature, a quiet walk in the forest.
The science came into play several years later when researchers began measuring stress in people before and after forest-bathing trips, and the results were undeniably positive. It has been found to decrease anxiety, depression, and anger, boost the immune system, increase energy, and bring about a state of relaxation. Lowering cortisol and adrenaline brings about a myriad of positive feelings and that means positive changes in a person’s health. Having sleep problems? Forest-bathing is sure to help your quality of sleep and increase your average time of sleep.
How do we do this?
How do we experience all of the positive results being shown from forest-bathing if we don’t live near the forest? While research shows that even looking at pictures of nature is relaxing (and a good start), it is better to find real nature outside of your home or office. Is there a park nearby? That’s a great place to begin, whether you stay for 15 minutes or 2 hours. Allison Aubrey wrote of her experience for NPR:
The aim of forest bathing…is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. She (the guide) helped us tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. We took in our surroundings by using all our senses. As we passed through a stand of pawpaw trees, we touched the bark. We smelled the black walnuts, which give off a lovely citrus fragrance. We got a little shower of ripe mulberries, too.
This is not a power walk, not a time to try to work up a sweat, but a time of walking through the forest or the park (Greenway where I live) and allowing your senses to be bathed by nature. The research is clear, as are the results. Perhaps, that is why the smell of the rain and the air was so soothing as I cracked the window open, or why being in the treehouse was such a calm and healing place for us kids. We were practicing Shinrin-yoku long before the Japanese had given it a name. What about you?
Lord Byron recognized the value of nature, and we should, too. Take your shoes off and feel the ground beneath your toes, spread a blanket for a picnic, close your eyes and drink in the aromas of the forest. We might benefit from looking at photos of nature, but why not turn off the television or computer, leave the headphones at home, and go for a quiet walk? Your sleep, anxiety, blood pressure, and so much more will be the winners. I’ll look for you in the forest.