We all know how good being in nature can make us feel. The sound of the wind in the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air – these can give a sense of comfort. They can help us to relax, restore a good mood, refresh and rejuvenate us.
But what exactly is this feeling? The Japanese practice forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in a forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. This is not exercise or hiking. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our five senses, thus helping to bridge the gap between us and the natural world.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors. But the good news is that even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact, not only on our health, but also on our relationship with nature and all of creation.
So, how does one practice forest bathing? First, leave your cell phone and camera behind. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Walk aimlessly and slowly. It doesn’t matter if you don’t “get” anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are simply savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.
The key to unlocking the power of the forest, or any other aspect of the natural world, is in the five senses. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Feel your feet touching and noticing the difference between grass, rock and pavement.
Consider what a right relationship with nature means for you. How might you improve or deepen that relationship as springtime brings forth new life and endless possibilities for growth? Try an occasional forest bathing experience and let nature speak to you.[Editor’s note: With the new social distancing regulations, it is still considered safe to go outside, as long as you are maintaining a distance of six feet away from others. Please refer to CDC guidelines to keep yourself and others safe. ]
~Sister Jeanne Wingenter, SSND