What’s in a word or two? For me, a lot. Take the words “forest bathing”, introduced to me by my sister-in-law Linda, and derived from the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku developed in the 1980s. Shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest” and “bath”, means bathing in the forest atmosphere — or absorbing the forest through our senses. Instead of walking in Stanley Park, I now go forest bathing there. Two words transformed my regular ritual into an enticing experience.
The key difference: my deliberate engagement with nature by becoming mindful of all I see, hear, smell and touch when wandering alone in the woods. I don’t use my fifth sense of taste — except to hydrate from my obligatory water bottle. After all, the wild mushrooms might be poisonous.
Forest bathing involves contemplative walking, standing or sitting in a serene spot, or lying on the forest floor as we exercise our senses. Since scientific research shows doing it leads to reduced stress, improved mood and less fatigue, advocates think forest bathing should be one of many activities — e.g. dance and art classes, gardening, museum and art gallery visits — now prescribed by some doctors for our wellness.
An imperative of forest bathing is to leave behind our devices. To truly disconnect. Oops. A confession: when the lighting’s sublime, I tweak this rule by taking out my prohibited cell phone for the photo op. Well, that does help satisfy my aesthetic needs.
Find a treed area to walk slowly, aimlessly, for up to two hours (though even 20 minutes will benefit us). Then connect wholly with nature. As expert Dr. Qing Li writes: “listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides… Take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree… Lie on the ground.” More tweaking: I don’t lie down.
Because I’m directionally challenged, I do not always walk the trail less travelled. First I must suppress my apprehension of getting lost — as my sister-in-law Nina and I once did — in this 405-hectare park with 27 km of trails winding through it. But sometimes, deep in the forest, a deafening silence enwraps me, profoundly. It’s worth risking minutes of confusion. Or carrying a trail map. And as Dr. Li says, “it doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere.”
No easy access to a forest? Just head into nature, to a grove of trees at a neighbourhood park for instance. Then practice bathing, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga or T’ai chi. To boost our fitness, another tenet of wellness, add power walking before or after forest bathing. •
P.S. If I rename cooking, will it transform into an enticing task? That’s food for thought! Please add your suggestions in the comments below.