Shinrin-yoku: Embrace the restorative powers of ‘forest bathing’

Shinrin-yoku, or Japanese forest bathing, is a meditation form practiced in nature. Source: Toboji

The Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku, or 'forest bathing', can be traced back several centuries and refers to slowing down and spending mindful time in nature. Gentle and meditative, the practice is seen as an antidote to the stresses of modern living.

Highlights

  • Coined in the 1980s, the term 'shinrin-yoku', Japanese for 'forest bathing', refers to immersing oneself in nature to combat stress
  • Contrary to the name, it has nothing to do with water baths, but simply means to walk amid a forest atmosphere
  • Studies suggest forest therapy as a way to reduce modern-day stress and anxiety

The healing powers of nature have long been touted.

Paracelsus, the Swiss-German doctor and alchemist of the 16th century, stated, "The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician". 

Recent studies have found evidence that spending time in the great outdoors can help reduce anxiety and stress, and improve concentration and creativity.

This episode of the Great Minds podcast delves into the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku, or 'forest bathing', which encourages participants to engage with nature using all five senses. 

Shinrin-yoku meditation 1: Discover Japanese forest bathing
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Forest bathing, contrary to its name, does not involve immersing oneself in water. Instead, it asks that participants bask in their natural surroundings.

History of forest bathing

A practice with ancient roots, shinrin-yoku developed in 1980s Japan as a form of preventative health care and healing.

As studies validated the health benefits of exposure to nature, both the Japanese and South Korean governments incorporated shinrin-yoku into their national health systems.

Acts such as listening to the sounds of nature, sitting meditating in a green space or simply taking the time to notice your surroundings are all examples of shinrin-yoku.

While some of these therapies are rooted in ancient medicine, others have emerged from the bustling modern world, such as urban green space therapy.

Led by Mayumi Kataoka, the Great Minds podcast invites you to experience a forest bathing meditation style.

Mayumi is a Sydney-based certified Forest Therapy Guide who found shinrin-yoku while searching for a better way to connect to nature as a photographer. She now leads walking tours in Sydney as a forest bathing instructor.

"In shinrin-yoku, people embrace nature with their five senses to feel calm and relaxed," she says.

Shinrin-yoku, she says, is practised by focussing on the present moment and exhibiting awareness of the sights and sounds that accompany your walk.

Benefits of forest bathing

The practice has garnered a lot of scientific interest in recent years.

A meta-analysis published in the journal Environmental Research found that people who spend more time in green spaces have lower risk of several chronic diseases.

The researchers, from the University of East Anglia, tracked a staggering 290 million participants across 20 different countries.

The study concluded that spending more time in green spaces was linked to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thus soothing the nervous system. It also lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces the risk of diabetes, improves mental health, lowers cholesterol levels, and reduces all-cause mortality rate.

Tune in and relax with the Great Minds podcast, hosted by Leah Vandenberg.

 

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