Do you love walking in the woods? Do you find yourself more at ease and at peace when in a quiet green space? Walking in the woods is what brings me peace. I moved to Dahlonega precisely because of its proximity to hilly wooded trails. Now I have a term to use for why I feel such a strong pull to walk in the woods. The term is forest bathing.
Forest Bathing is about time, attention, and inspiration for landscaping ideas
Forest bathing, shinrin-yoku, is being mindful in a natural setting. It is being aware and quiet, attentive to one’s surroundings. Forest bathing is a modern concept, rising in Japan in the 1980s, but it is an ancient human experience.
Research shows that forest bathing reduces stress, increases a sense of well-being, and revitalizes the mind and body. Two elements of being in a forest that promote well-being, beyond the beauty and peace of such places, are oxygen and phytoncides. The concentration of oxygen is higher in a forest than in an urban setting, and the air is cleaner, the trees processing out the pollutants. The presence of phytoncides, natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system can have measurable health benefits for humans. We may even get a new landscaping idea in the process.
Additional elements of being in a natural setting that improve mental health and well being include natural light, birdsong, and walking. Exposure to natural light improves our sleep-wake cycle and stimulates the production of serotonin. Studies have found that sounds in nature, particularly birdsongs, have been linked to increased feelings of relaxation. Walking, of course, reduces the risk of chronic illnesses and leads to overall sense of happiness.
Walking the dog differently
We do a great deal of landscaping in Lumpkin County where our home happens to sit on a wooded lot there. Most of the time, when I walked our dog Maggie (on a leash), it was for exercise, hers, and mine. We walked briskly, seeking to cover as much ground in a prescribed amount of time as possible. To make it a cardiovascular walk, I pulled her away from the odors and items that grabbed her attention. Walk, walk, walk.
But every so often she and I walked at her pace. She loved to stop and sniff. We would walk a short distance, she would find something of interest and together, we paused. Her exploration of what she found gave me time to stand still, listen and look. When she was done, we moved on. I look back now and see that this was forest bathing, time spent mindfully, peacefully and without intention in a forested setting.
If you do not already, I encourage you to bath in a nearby forest. Soak in the sounds, smells and sights that nature gives us. You will emerge refreshed and revitalized.
Here are some websites to learn more about forest bathing:
- This page from Greater Good Magazine informs you about Qing Li’s new book. Li is credited with the development of the forest bathing concept. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health
- This link takes you to the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, the group with which Qing Li worked. http://forest-medicine.com/epage01.html
- While Healing Forest appears to be a group of focused volunteers, their website offers history and activities. https://healingforest.org/2020/01/27/forest-bathing-guide/
- Links to scientific studies on the benefits of being in the woods can be found on this blog site. https://appalachiantrail.org/official-blog/3-ways-the-appalachian-trail-improves-mental-health/