If you find yourself craving rest from a world filled with screens and noise, the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, or “Forest Bathing,” may be just what you need. Best of all, it requires no equipment or training, only access to nature and a willingness to immerse yourself in it. This activity asks you to breathe, relax, wander, and listen while you take in all of the landscape around you.
Living in Northeast Ohio means that you have access to some of the best paths and green spaces in the entire state through our Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. In fact, if you live at the South Franklin Circle campus, there are Metropark trails that connect to the South Chagrin Reservation running right through your neighborhood!
Many practitioners of forest bathing believe that it may also help with emotional and physical healing by offering a gentle path to wellness that nearly everyone can access. If this sounds too simple to believe, rest assured there are some basic principles to follow. These will help you hone your practice and deepen your understanding of this ancient technique. The author M. Amos Clifford has written about this in Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature. He offers a few tips to those of us who’d like to try forest bathing:
- Free yourself from the idea that you must get something out of the experience; you do not need to be mindful or meditative. That sensation can often put pressure upon us to achieve some specific goal while out in nature, but this is not the aim here. Just be present. Humans already attune to noticing plants, animals, rocks, and water. Your mind will do what it is meant to do.
- Don’t exercise. It’s rare to hear that advice these days! But focusing on your physical exertion will take the focus off of the land itself. Forest bathing is about taking it slow, taking your time and taking it all in. Discard the notion that you are trying to reach the end of the path or hit a particular milestone. Forest bathing emphasizes slow movement, frequent rests, and minimal distances. This combination makes it perfect for older people and those with mobility limits. If you do find yourself automatically exercising or trying to raise your heart rate, take notice, and stop walking. After a few breaths, begin slowly walking again. After a while, you will not need to remind yourself of this.
- Seek out natural environments that include lots of trees to block out human noises like construction or traffic. Ideally, it would consist of streams, meadows, and forests to offer a variety of nature but you can forest bathe in any natural habitat.
- Choose a path that is easy to get to and easy to travel. There is no need for strenuous climbs or steep footpaths. The Cleveland Metroparks are great for this as many offer paths of varying lengths and levels of difficulty and many are paved and ADA compliant.
- Unplug! The quickest way to distance yourself from nature is with earplugs or buzzing cell phones. If you want to bring a phone with you for safety, put it on silent and try to store it in a backpack or somewhere that you won’t notice it. That way, it’s there if you need it but forgotten about otherwise.
So take advantage of the warmer months with one of our beautiful Cleveland Metroparks and a new appreciation for nature through an ancient idea. As Clifford writes, “Come to it ready to invite its gifts. / Speak to it; let it know what you need. / Listen; let it whisper it’s medicine.”