By Phil Green
What is Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing)?
Shinrin-yoku is a term that translates as "taking in the forest atmosphere“.
It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
The process of Forest Bathing or mindful walking simply means: go to a forest (or any green space),
walk slowly, breathe and open all your senses.
• concentration and memory
Boosts our immune system
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about observation without judgement; being compassionate with yourself. In
essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practise on a daily basis.
Natural Mindfulness (or mindfulness via nature interventions) - is a unique combination of mindfulness and nature connection to support mental health recovery, resilience and wellbeing. The intention is to be effortless or natural – not changing or fighting a state of mind but simply observing and accepting it to help you to find awareness, connection, insight and purpose through nature, and discover mindfulness through nature, engage all of our senses to connect with nature mindfully.
The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved. It is taking the time and not focussing on the distance walked but engaging the senses and being present in the moment.
Researchers have long theorised that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.
Walking in Breath
How do you combine mindfulness and walking? Before starting a walk, gather your awareness and focus on being in the present. Closing the eyes, take a deep breath, in through the nose and out through mouth. Start to expand your awareness and notice the sounds, smells, the physical sensations you feel – all without judgment. If your mind wanders, come back to the breath. Breath naturally counting to 10 until your awareness is back to present.
You can become more focused with practice, simply by coming back to the present. Often when walking, we can often fail to notice the environment we’re in. So, one way to effortlessly “notice” is to walk “in breath”. For example, as you walk slowly, notice your breathing without forcing it. Notice the physical sensations of the ground. Also, if you start to walk up an incline, being in-breath stops you being out of breath.
As you start to walk, notice the sensations of walking. The feeling of your feet on the ground, the surface you are walking across, the motion of your body. If your mind starts to wander, bring your awareness back to the breath. If you walk up an incline, focus on your breathing again, gauging your movement. Make adjustments, so as to flow easily and naturally up the hill.
After a while, expand your attention to the sounds around you. What can you hear? Notice the sounds close to you as well as far away, moving your head in all directions. Don’t judge these sounds. They are all part of the soundscape. After paying attention to your breath, expand your awareness. Start to connect with the sounds around you – without judgement.
Connect with the experience of hearing and quality of the sound, without labelling.
Now pay attention to what you can see. Pay attention to the many hues of green. Why so many shades of green in nature? Leaves absorb light from several parts of the light spectrum – the red/orange and violet/blue ends of the spectrum. What's left is reflected back as the green we can observe.The shades can be due to factors such as habitat, design of the leaf, nutrient deficiencies and the age of the leaf.
Notice the ordinary things in nature.
Focus in on the details. Investigate movement in nature – how do trees sway in the wind, the ripples of grass.
Notice the feel of the wind, touch of rain drops. Feel the texture of bark on different trees – what did you notice?
Explore the leaves and grass. Also notice how it feels to walk across different surfaces.
So, there you have it. The next time you’re having a wander in nature, slow down, notice the ordinary things in nature. Be mindful, start to expand your awareness, use all your senses and most of all, enjoy!
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”
Written by Phil Green of Green Wellbeing
Forest Bathing and Natural Mindfulness Guide
YouTube: @philgreen6066 – Nature Micro Videos