I keep a wildlife journal. On the days I walk to the nearby river I usually spy a bird or an animal that makes me stop in my tracks. I smell the fragrant air, I feel the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot, or snow falling on my eyelashes and I hear the water gurgling or rushing by depending on the time of year.
Something magical happens when I'm on these walks. My busy mind slows wayyyyy down. My stress level decreases and I feel really, really good and grounded. In Japan they call a short, leisurely nature walk like this "forest bathing" (shinrin-yoku). Isn't that an awesome name?
I also spend a great deal of time on the bridge facing downstream and I imagine my stress floating away, or I say a prayer. Then, I spend an equal amount of time facing upstream to allow good feelings, thoughts and blessings to fill that newly emptied space.
Forest bathing trips are popular "medicine" in Japan, proposed by the Japanese Forest Agency in 1984, to help some of the overworked, overstressed population de-stress, and lower things like high blood pressure and anxiety. If you have ever wandered around having NO agenda in nature . . . you have taken a forest bath.
Part of a forest bath is engaging all five senses. For the sense of taste part you can bring along a thermos of tea, so you don't have to risk eating something potenially dangerous. In Japan, scientists often monitor blood pressure before and after shinrin-yoku to see if it goes down after being among the trees. It does.
Since Japan has the 3rd highest suicide rate in the developed world, Japanese scientists and their govornment are researching, and funding, this forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) as a way to counteract all that. So far they have 48 official forest therapy trails (shooting for 100 official trails).
If you want to be inspired to do some sinrin-yoku yourself, you can
I'm a huge, huge fan of being outside, whether it is forest bathing in a big city of skyscraper "trees" listening for birds, or forest bathing in the mountains doing the same thing. Here is a log of what I've seen while forest bathing this summer on the river. Imagine how fulfilling it was to see:
- 10 mallard ducks (five pair)
- 5 new ducklings
- a few hummingbirds
- 1 jet-black goose and 3 regular geese
- 7 American dipper birds (hilarious birds)
- 1 beaver crawling and swimming upstream (huge!)
- 1 great blue heron 50 feet away
- 1 raccoon
- chickadee's singing (didn't see them)