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Forest Bathing: How Japan's Shinrin-Yoku Is Becoming Popular in India

Shinrin-Yoku is a part of the ancient health practices and therapy for well-being in Japan and Asia.

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Alt Remedies
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Edited By :Garima Sadhwani

I can never forget that early morning years ago, when on a Himalayan trek, as a school student, I stepped sitting outside a tent. One teacher was awake. She was sitting on a log, sipping tea. She wordlessly offered me tea as well and smiled.

We remained silent, scared of upsetting the delicate magic of the place at dawn. That cold day, the rejuvenating air filled our lungs, with the forest fragrance tingling our senses.

Something mystical made the experience memorable which, I later found out, was the effect of being in a forest and experiencing Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing).

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What is Forest Bathing?

Shinrin-Yoku is the Japanese practice of relaxing in a forest, soaking in the calm and quiet atmosphere, and mindfully observing nature. It is a part of the ancient health practices and therapy for well-being in Japan and Asia.

It engages all the five senses by breathing in the scent of the forest, observing the tall trees and dense foliage, listening to the forest sounds, tasting the fruits, while feeling the forest deeply within your soul.

We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors and that too in front of the screens. Work, recreation, and social connection all happen through gadgets. We have no time to walk in our neighbourhood parks without a hundred things on our mind pulling us away from nature. Even while walking, we are either counting our steps or thinking about the duration of the exercise, or our office meetings.

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Dr Qing Li, the world's leading expert in forest medicine and immunology, says in his book Into the Forest: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness:

“We are a part of the natural world. Our rhythms are the rhythms of nature. As we walk slowly through the forest seeing, listening, smelling, tasting, and touching, we bridge our rhythms into step with nature. Shirin-Yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”

What People Say?

Chandreyi Bandyopadhyay a travel blogger, who goes by the name The Moonchasers, learned about Shinrin-Yoku in Japanese literature.

She, and her partner, was cycling around the Kawaguchiko lake at the foot of Fujiyama. There, on the trail, was a beautiful forest patch.

“It was a dream to see and experience it in person. We parked our cycles and went in to the forest, and just sat there.”

"The key is to let nature flow through your body and be one with it."
Chandreyi Bandyopadhyay,Travel Blogger
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Forest bathing is all about nature. It gives a sense of calm when you indulge in it without baggage, she explains.

They walked along the trail to find a beautiful shrine hidden in the foliage. “It was one of the most beautiful days I have spent while travelling, not doing much in the typical sense, but just being close to nature”, she adds.

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Hamsini M Murthy, a public relations officer of a leading school who also conducts forest bathing workshops, is passionate about trees and gardens.

She says, “Trees are not ornamental accessories but complex and intelligent beings. This awareness can only come by connecting deeply with the tree.”

Trees have always played a significant role in all cultures. Hamsini mentions how Buddha and Mahavira, both princes, had to find a tree to meditate. Sages too would meditate under trees, being aware of the subtle energy of the trees.

The practice of absorbing the moving energy of the tree is unique. It collects energy from the atmosphere, makes food, and moves it around the entire tree down through the trunk to its roots, and then into the earth and into the air. While sustaining itself, it also sustains the entire array of beings from insects to humans.
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The fragrance of trees, in the morning hours, attracts bees, butterflies, and birds. At night, it attracts nocturnal animals, snakes, and insects. “Forest bathing is to connect with such a complex being and enjoy the fruits of what it is giving freely to you,” Hamsini explains.

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Doing Forest Bathing

Living in a plastic world, we have lost all real connection with nature. Forest bathing is consciously going and standing under a tree. The entire session is about 2-3 hours, involving grounding techniques to connect with the earth, shares Hamsini. “You feel the mud with your fingers, walk around the tree touching it until you form a connection.”

Her sessions are conducted early morning or during the first half of the day to experience the fresh energy that trees have at the break of dawn or around 7-8 am. She starts with grounding exercises to connect with nature.

She shares that people choose a tree that is like themselves. For instance, young people would select a young tree with flowers. “I did not want it to feel rough on my skin or I wanted to put my arms around it,” they would say. Older folks may connect with an older tree and say they wanted a tree that they could lean on, or with the crevices saying that these speak of its age and character.

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Forest bathing is becoming increasingly popular in India due to its health benefits.

Shruti Shibulal, the CEO of Tamara Leisure Experiences, shares,

"The UN proclaimed that commemorative days, such as the International Day of Forests, also aids in raising awareness about the healing qualities of forests and nature, emphasising our psychological connection with nature."

Hamsini agrees but feels that it is more popular with young people as it requires 2-3 hours of walking which the older folks may find tiring. Older people are also hesitant to walk barefoot in the forest, in the mud, and fear hurting themselves.

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Sometimes the smells could be uncomfortable for some people. “However, seniors who opt for forest bathing mostly benefit more,” she explains.

People enjoy experiencing the different textures of mud, tree trunk, colourful leaves, and flowers. And it's fascinating to see the angle of the sunshine changing rapidly.

“The exhilarating energy around is constantly changing, and by the time you finish, you feel the entire atmosphere waking up,” she adds.

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Benefits of Forest Bathing

Studies say that forest bathing reduces anxiety, stress, depression, fatigue, and blood pressure. It boosts immunity, vitality, and improves cardiovascular activity and sleep patterns.

The green colour of the trees has a soothing effect on the heart chakra. Fresh air also provides subtle energy from trees.

Forest Bathing Tips

  • Turn off all digital devices for a better experience.

  • Apply mosquito and insect repellent.

  • Walk slowly through the forest and absorb more of your surroundings.

  • Carry a mat to sit on if you are uncomfortable sitting on the forest floor.

  • Take breaks during the walk, to sit down or stand still to have a multi-sensory experience – the sights and the sounds of the landscape.

  • Long breathing patterns help to improve focus, mindfulness, and a deep connection with nature.

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Forest bathing is an emerging wellness concept that needs to be explored in customised and evolving ways, shares Shruti.

However, if you can’t attend a forest bathing session, try connecting with a tree in your neighbourhood park, suggests Hamsini. “Sit under a new tree every day until you bond with one and then start spending time regularly with it.”

Take mindful walks listening to the wind and the songs of the birds, walking barefoot on the grass, touching a tree, or watching the sunset. It will make you healthier and happier.

Then whenever you get an opportunity, enroll in a workshop. It is indeed a life-changing wellness experience, as one guest at Tamara Coorg shared.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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