• Footbridge in forest.

    Forest bathing – The Japanese art of the woodland walk.

    The forest entices our senses into an experience of relaxation. Immersion in a world of infinite green.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Traditions and rituals.

Komorebi is a word that only exists in Japanese. It means “sunlight filtered through the leaves of trees” and it shows just how firmly the forest is rooted in Japanese culture (excuse the pun). It’s a culture which is often presented to us as being over-technologised, urbane and cool, whereas it actually has very close ties to nature in its traditions and everyday rituals.

Man in forest.
Forest scene.

Equilibrium for stressed city-dwellers.

The forest has an important role in aspects of Japanese life beside its traditions. Since the 1980s, the Japanese forestry industry and the Institute for Public Health have been looking into the health benefits of woodland, and they have reached some fascinating conclusions. The researchers have coined an expression: “shinrin-yoku”. It describes a special kind of forest walk – forest bathing – which means symbolically immersing yourself in the forest with all available senses. This contact with the forest, which is more about the intensity of the experience than its duration, is now an important aspect of health provision in Japan and Korea, because despite all the associations with nature, 91 percent of the Japanese population live in urban centres and have a desperate need for something to counterbalance their stressful daily routines and lives in crowded cities.

Proven effects of forest bathing.

The studies into forest bathing are based on the assumption that trees filter bioactive substances which have a positive effect on human health. Proven effects include reduced production of stress hormones, a stronger immune system and healthy blood pressure. On a psychological level, the participants in the research reported that their mood was improved, they felt a greater sense of vitality, slept better and had higher concentration levels. All in all, it’s a bunch of good reasons to go for regular walks in the forest and enjoy the greenery. Even a single forest visit is supposed to make a difference, but the recommendation is to take regular woodland walks to achieve lasting improvements to your health.

Light filtering through trees.
  • Hand touches fir.

How does forest bathing work?

What is the difference between a normal walk in the woods and forest bathing? According to the Japanese forest medicine researchers it’s all about the intention. The key thing is to experience the forest consciously with all your senses and take in the atmosphere completely. You might find the following tips useful:

- Go to the forest on your own and follow a signposted path until you feel that you are completely alone.

- Set your phone to flight mode and try not to be distracted by any outside influences.

- Have the confidence to be curious and take everything in: the moss, the tree trunks, leaves, branches, the dew on the grass.

- Consciously walk at a speed that allows you to breathe quietly and evenly.

- Try to identify various smells while inhaling through your nose. Do all trees smell the same? Or does everything have a different intensity of odour?

- Find a favourite spot in this forest and pause there for a while.

- Listen to the forest. What sounds and noises can you hear? Is it the sound of birds, leaves in the wind, or even the rustle of squirrels?

These are just some of the ways of experiencing the forest more intensely. If you want to find out more about forest bathing there are plenty of experts on the internet who offer guided forest bathing walks. The technique now has a big international following and is practised everywhere from San Francisco to the Harz mountains.

Glade in forest.

Timeless and ancient.

Trees are the oldest living things on the planet. On a symbolic level they are metaphors for a long and healthy life. Anyone who wants to improve their health can discover a new world through forest bathing. A world that our forefathers knew how to appreciate, because in times past the forest was our home. A place of yearning, where we can give our body and soul the gift of contentment. One mindful step at a time.