Shinrin-Yoku: What is Forest Bathing?

Shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing," was created in Japan in the 1980s as a meditative and restorative interaction with nature. This form of nature therapy requires no structured activity, only that participants immerse themselves in the forest. Tuning one's senses to the quiet sounds, fresh scent, and pure air, this meditative practice invites a peace of mind and a re-centering of oneself within the larger world. It is a multisensory experience – one of touch, smell, sound, and sight. As the bather meanders along forest paths, there is no end destination, no exercise-based goal. Instead, the bather reaches a state of relaxation, a connectedness between oneself and the natural world. This practice is highly personal. Forest bathing can be guided or unguided. It can be realized through movement – such as yoga or walking – or in stillness – such as soaking in a hot spring or observing the plant life. As the character of forest bathing varies, so does the location.  The perfect location is subjective. In the bustle of city life, it may seem difficult to take a forest bath. Yet, if one embraces the concept of forest bathing, a neighborhood park can serve as an urban holdover until you can enjoy the full forest bathing experience.

Hiroshige, Monkey Bridge in Kai Province from the series Famous Views of 60-Odd Provinces, 1853, woodblock print, Ronin Gallery.
Hiroshige, Monkey Bridge in Kai Province from the series Famous Views of 60-Odd Provinces, 1853, woodblock print, Ronin Gallery.

While forest bathing may appear simple in practice, it carries powerful benefits. This immersion beneath the forest canopy is said to offer positive effects for both mental and physical health. The primary benefit of this site-specific mindfulness exercise is stress reduction, but the list does not stop there. The impact of forest bathing extends from immune system support and blood pressure management, to mood improvement and better sleep quality. As of 1983, the practice was incorporated into Japan’s national health program which lead to the creation of dedicated forest bathing trails. This nature therapy continues to be a popular practice today. Japan offers over sixty designated forest bathing destinations that range from deluxe resorts to simple, stand-alone trails. In both Japan and South Korea, medical researchers continue to study the practice and its benefits, providing research-based evidence on the efficacy of this nature therapy.

Daryl Howard, One single tree is enough...to keep next to my heart, 2007, woodblock print, Ronin Gallery.
Daryl Howard, One single tree is enough...to keep next to my heart, 2007, woodblock print, Ronin Gallery.

Though the practice of Shinrin-Yoku gained popularity in 1980s Japan, “forest bathing” has only recently gained traction in the US. Today, medical researchers, therapists, and other advocates are actively working to establish forest bathing as a widely accepted form of therapy. Many argue that nature bathing may present a productive therapy for the chronic stress that plagues many Americans. While the benefits of this meditative practice are not yet widely accepted by the medical community in the US, its practice is proliferating. Today, trained guides and forest therapy centers can be found through the US. These centers and licensed individuals lead multi-hour trips that may incorporate poetry, yoga, and guided meditation into the forest bathing experience.

Keisuke Yamaguchi, Kiriri from the series Onomatope, 2016, painting on paper, Ronin Gallery,
Keisuke Yamaguchi, Kiriri from the series Onomatope, 2016, painting on paper, Ronin Gallery,

Curious to explore the landscapes that sparked this restorative practice? This week, Ronin Gallery is pleased to present a collection of prints and paintings that take us into the forest atmosphere, connecting us to the natural world through visual arts. From Hiroshige’s stroll high in the canopy, to Daryl Howard’s careful attention to bark and branches, this exhibition invites you to explore natural wonder through the artists’ eyes. This online-only exhibition can be found here.


Sources

  • “Forest Bathing: A Retreat To Nature Can Boost Immunity And Mood.” NPR.org. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • “‘Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It.” Time. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Haile, Rahawa. “‘Forest Bathing’: How Microdosing on Nature Can Help With Stress.” The Atlantic, June 30, 2017.
  • “About.” Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Accessed August 10, 2018.

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