Take a Walk on the Wild Side
By Walter Reins
When people in Japan coined the term ‘shinrin-yoku’ in 1982, they likely weren’t inspired by Lou Reed’s now classic 1972 hit. But shinrin-yoku, which translates in english to ‘forest bathing’, is a practice that takes us back to our wild side, back to experiencing the calming and healing qualities of the forest and all of the plants and animals that reside there.
Forest bathing, also commonly called forest therapy or nature therapy, is a practice that involves spending time in a natural setting like a forest, and allowing our minds to slow down and set aside the “to do” list. We’re not literally bathing, but instead “soaking” in all of our surroundings. Scientific research has shown significant and remarkable health benefits from this practice, and some research suggests that the compounds and essential oils that are released by trees contribute to these benefits. These include decreased blood pressure, lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and an increased ability to focus.
Have you ever heard the expression “spend more time being, not doing”? In forest bathing, we look to spend time being - being present to all that’s around us, and taking in the forest and nature through all of our senses. The sights, sounds, smells, and tactile experiences we find in the forest are uniquely wild. Even our sense of taste can be entertained with many edible wild foods.
While forest bathing as a growing trend is joining the ranks of other mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation, the concept of reconnecting to the natural world is anything but new. Over a hundred years ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his essay titled ‘Walking’:
“At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only--when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman's grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.”
Consider that Thoreau wrote this in the mid 1800s and was already compelled to express his view on the ill-effect of urban settings and a loss of connection to the natural world. Fast forward to present day, where the natural places seem less and less, and technology and the pace it requires of us becomes more and more. Stepping away from our phones and computers and into natural surroundings - even for just a short time - gives us the chance to reconnect with a simpler, slower and more peaceful world.
In central Ohio, we are fortunate to have so many wonderful Metro Parks that offer up natural settings and scenery. Take advantage of this time of year, when the forests and fields are filled with plants bursting with new foliage and eager to impress with showy and fragrant flowers. And before you set out on your trek into the woods, consider this bit of advice: silence your phone when you get there and commit to not using it, especially for pictures. There’s a good chance that when you pull out your phone to capture a photo of that patch of moss, red-tailed hawk, or a peculiar mushroom growing on a stump, an email, text or some notification is waiting to take you away from that present, mindful moment.
To quote Thoreau in ‘Walking’ once more,
“What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
Walter Reins | Regional Manager, Russell Tree Experts
Walter has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 2003. He graduated from Montgomery College in Maryland with a degree in Landscape Horticulture, and has called Columbus, OH his home for nearly 20 years. Walter appreciates trees for their majesty and the critical role they play in our world.