Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing began in Japan to help people connect with nature more deeply. It's about taking the forest or nature in with our senses and healing our long disconnection from the natural world. I have benefited from sitting in nature on my own and have decided to take the steps to even start a business guiding people on forest bathing journeys.
How has forest bathing changed my life? It's given me so many tools that I have brought to my day-to-day experience. I tend to be a do-er and a busy person. Often hours and hours go by before I have a chance to sit down and relax. In the past I suffered from insomnia, anxiety, and indecision. Connecting with nature has really helped me gain some balance and inner peace. I have learned to be still, access my creative juices, find silence in my mind, and gain clarity around life's difficult decisions.
Forest bathing is such a valuable practice. It truly has become my gold standard of healing and spiritual modalities that I've learned through my life (and there have been a lot!). Read more about the 4 main benefits I have personally received from deeply connecting with nature.
Forest Bathing Benefit #1 - I Become Grounded
I have been blessed with a really active mind, full of constant thoughts, ideas, and inspiration. It's wonderful at times, but I have a difficult time shutting it off. It's probably why I sought meditation and yoga almost two decades ago. I took up Vipassana meditation when I was 32. To learn it people, attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat where they meditate for about 10 hours a day. It's the navy seal training of spiritual development. The home practice is an hour twice a day of a very focused and effortful (at least it was for me at the time) practice. The first 5 years it really felt like the right practice for me. It the end it left me feeling very ungrounded, spacey, and shaky.
Twelve years later I discovered Heart Based meditation, which I learned to teach to others. It was very effortless, relaxing, and felt exactly like what I needed to grow and develop. In that practice people can sit on a comfy couch. The strict rules that Vipassana had of sitting with a straight back were gone. I felt like I found my true path for inner growth. But eventually I began to get agitated or "buzzy" as I call it. If I did it within 3 hours of sleep, I wouldn't be able to fall asleep. It started to feel very ungrounding for me.
I began to simply sit in nature. I had no agenda or methods. With my chair and sleeping bag I'd bundle myself in the Maine winter and walk a few minutes behind my house and look at the trees. It was like the lightbulb went off. I had found a practice that was not taught by others, which is something that I had desired for years. There is no dogma or rules to follow, but to simply be. My sleep improved, my body relaxed, and the efforting of all the previous years of meditation melted away. The large trees became my favorite beings to visit. I'd talk to them and feel their strength and deep roots into the earth. Finally, I had found my true spiritual teachers!
Forest Bathing Benefit #2 - My Creativity Flows
I began to realize that just 10 minutes a day of awareness in nature was enough to sustain me throughout the day. I didn't need a lot of time to commit to meditation, like before. In the time of being aware in nature, I'd bring my notebook and write. Poems would just flow out of the pen; one after another. It was so exiting. For someone like me with so many thoughts, I seldom had entered the state of flow. But writing in nature turned out to be a magic combination for me.
I noticed that I'd begin to write whatever arrived in my awareness, including my memories, feelings, what I smelled, things I saw, or ideas I had. Often the writing was not organized or poetic, but a free flow snapshot of my mental activity. But that practice had the power to deliver me to a state of awareness and clarity that allowed me to have many experiences of oneness or unity in nature.
Sometimes I was so relaxed and settled that poems would just arrive in my mind, and I would write them down in the notebook that I always carried around. Frequently, they'd arrive in 3-4 poems at a time one after another, and I'd struggle to move the pen quickly enough to get the words down.
There is a quiet
As the day ends.
There is stillness
In between the wind.
The crisp blue sky.
The clear white snow.
The simplicity of the tree’s naked branches.
My breath. Present to it all.
My being dissolving into the quiet.
Forest Bathing Benefit #3 - The Forest Heals Me
Nature has been a tremendous source of healing for me on so many levels. It seems my attention automatically goes to nature in times of sickness, stress, or uncertainty. I remember when I was a child I would go to nature as a way to escape the stress of the house. Usually, I'd go for a walk in the woods. Through my teens and 20's I saw hiking as a coping technique for releasing my stress.
In my 30's I started my serious meditation practice. That's when the thought of sitting in nature was born. The first time I sat in nature and was healed I didn't try to do anything but noticed that deep energetic patterns were being released from my body. Many times, since then I have gone into nature with the intentions of releasing shadow patterns to help me be more in line with my true self. I was blown away by the power of nature.
I have noticed that leaves and the color green have offered me healings numerous times. When I was pregnant and experienced nauseousness, looking at balsam fir trees was the only remedy that eased my sick feeling. A couple winters ago I caught COViD and one of the scariest symptoms I had was an extremely rapid hear beat. I was almost ready to call 911 because I was worried about my heart. I tried to meditate, do yogic breathing practices, and heal myself with energy, but nothing seems to calm it down. Finally, I went outside and sat next to the pine tree. Immediately, I was calm, and my heart rate went back to normal.
"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." – Albert Einstein
Forest Bathing Benefit #4 - Nature Gives Me Peace
My overactive thinking mind has been with me for most of my life. Even though I had a strong meditation practice, I experienced so many ideas throughout the day. Going into nature and remembering my experience there brings me peace of mind just about instantly.
Gaining inner peace of mind is the main benefit I have received from nature. Looking at the qualities of nature such as: silence, stillness, light, beauty, and perfection has been my main practice. Over time paying attention to those has enabled those qualities to become the reality of my being. By welcoming and noticing the stillness and silence, I began to embody them. Just 10 minutes of being aware of the silence would allow the silence to stay with me for the rest of the day. The silence feels like a cloud that enters me and takes me over.
Another experience I have in nature is the feeling that I am the same as everything in nature. This is known as unity or oneness. I have learned in my spiritual mentoring training that we are all connected by the unified field or pure consciousness. Knowing that we are all deeply connected changes how I treat other beings and myself. I have gained deep compassion for all the plants and animals on Mother Earth, and I feel a strong dedication to protect and respect them.
Shinrin Yoku is my Heaven on Earth
There have been some times in the past where I was sick in bed and often wondered about my deepest desire for my life. Being in the forest enjoying the beauty comes up again and again as my longing. To simply witness the design of a flower or the light shining through the leaves is such a gift for me that I treasure. Another desire that I've had is to bring people together in nature to simply sit together in the silence and witness nature on our own way and to share our experiences. It feels like a powerful way to heal ourselves and the planet, and I'm really overjoyed that I'm making that dream become a reality in my business, Radiant Life Within, a forest wellness center where we practice Shinrin Yoku in Surry, Maine.