As an Avenger’s fan, I can’t help but relate the current situation to that of Thanos snapping his fingers and wiping out half the universe’s population. It seems like we’re a part of ‘The End Game’ and for once, the world is united to fight a common enemy – the novel coronavirus!
Even though COVID-19 has spread to every continent and the numbers keep rising – there are some silver linings in our world grappling with the pandemic. The key ‘silver lining’ being the gift of time in our hands – time saved from commuting by WFH, time saved by hopping on video calls and not flights, time saved by cutting down on multiple coffee breaks as coffee is at the desk now! The list goes on. This ‘extra time’ is truly a gift and can be channeled to do all those things we never seem to have time for in the daily grind!
As the world heals itself and doctors work overtime to heal patients, so should each one of us try to self heal, be it through meditation, yoga, or even a hobby – the options are plenty. Another option available is to connect with nature around us and go forest bathing – a perfect way to heal our body, mind and soul.
What is Forest Bathing?No, it’s not about going for a ‘bath’ in the forest, so don’t start mentally preparing to take off your clothes just yet!
Dr. Quing Li, one of the world’s foremost experts on forest medicine and author of book ‘Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness‘ explains it clearly in this excerpt from his book: ‘This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Indoors, we tend to use only two senses, our eyes and our ears. Outside is where we can smell the flowers, taste the fresh air, look at the changing colours of the trees, hear the birds singing and feel the breeze on our skin. And when we open up our senses, we begin to connect to the natural world.’
And no, you don’t need to necessarily go find a forest – the idea is to spend time amidst nature wherever it is accessible to you, be it a park, a garden or even your tiny backyard or balcony with just one tree or potted plants. The emphasis is laid on slowing down from our fast paced lives and allowing our senses to experience nature that surrounds us like never before. If you live in Singapore, we recommend you check out these hiking trails and choose a spot to unwind!
Indoors variation: If your country is in a lockdown phase, or you do not have access to the outdoors, you need not go looking for a green space. Simply create your own little healing corner among indoor plants, even if they are just a few of them. A balcony or a window-side that lets you get fresh air and some sun would be ideal. If this spot is free from noise, even better. If even that’s too much to manage, put on your headphones and watch any forest exploration video online – that too will help you relax.
Shinrin-Yoku – The origin of forest bathing
In the olden and probably more ‘conscious’ times, man and nature co-existed as they were highly dependent on each other. Nature provided man and man nurtured nature – a relationship that seems to have gotten lost somewhere over the past centuries. However, nature’s healing powers are not something new to us.
Shinrin-Yoku originated in Japan, and literally translates into ‘forest bathing’. In 1982, the Japanese government started an experimental program to help their citizens get back to nature, thereby promoting health and conservation. With research and further studies, today there are nearly 62 designated forest bathing spots in Japan — many within dense cities — used by up to 5 million people a year.
This healing practice has already spread across the globe with more and more people opting for ‘a walk in the woods.’
Forest Bathing – how do you do it?
There are many guided forest bathing therapy sessions that one can sign up for. [Keep a lookout on our calendar here.] The guidance of a trained person can help us unplug ourselves from the daily stress and experience these walks in a better and more fulfilling way. But if you want to do it on your own – that works too! Adapted from this article, here are a few steps to help you in forest bathing.
Find a spot. Look for a green space that is easily accessible to you. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to always be a forested area; it could be a park, botanical gardens, a nature trail or your own backyard. Allow yourself to wander in this area, let your body guide you in which direction to move.
Engage all your senses. Allow yourself to experience nature by activating all your senses. Open your eyes and look around; listen to the sounds, breathe in the scent of the forest, touch the leaves, walk barefoot on grass; you can even taste any edible plants around.
Don’t hurry. This is a slow process, so take your time. If needed, set aside some time in your daily schedule to relax.
Try different activities. You can do various activities in the open – do yoga or meditation, go for a walk or run, read a book sitting under a tree. Do what makes you happy and do it in the open!
Appreciate the silence. It may be difficult to find a quiet spot in the city but if you do manage to find one, enjoy the ‘sound of silence’. Nature’s sounds have their own healing power – the birds chirping, the leaves rustling, a stream gurgling…
Connecting to nature is easy according to Dr. Qing Li, “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.”
Benefits of forest bathing
Try this experiment – Just watch this forest bathing video below and assess how you feel: Do you feel better, happier, more relaxed?
At some point or other, consciously or subconsciously, we have all experienced the beneficial effects of nature. An evening spent at the park refreshes us; a long walk with our dog makes us feel more relaxed than tired; even during lunch break, when we sit in the courtyard under a tree, we feel happier than eating lunch at our desks. Now imagine, if we allowed ourselves to experience this in a conscious way; if we opened our senses and let nature flow in – the benefits would truly be amazing!
A lot of scientific research has been done to actually find out if Forest Bathing is beneficial or not and how it helps us. In fact, there are studies that have concluded that there is reduced risk of chronic illnesses among those who spend a significant amount of time in green spaces.
In his book, Dr. Qing Li lists the following as benefits of Forest Bathing –
- Reduces blood pressure
- Lowers stress
- Improves cardiovascular and metabolic health
- Lowers blood-sugar levels
- Improves concentration and memory
- Lifts depression
- Improves pain thresholds
- Improves energy
- Boosts the immune system with an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells
- Increases anti-cancer protein production
- Helps in weight loss
Yes, it is definitely a WOW moment! These many benefits from spending just two hours daily or maybe a few days getaway to green spaces – it’s impressive. About time one prescribed to this medication that is so easily accessible to most of us and costs nothing.
Phytoncide – the ‘magical’ ingredient
While just getting some kind of physical activity outdoors and switching off from our electronic lives helps improve our health significantly, being in nature has added benefits.
Phytoncide is an antimicrobial essential oil the trees and plants emit to protect themselves from harmful insects and bacteria. When we spend time among trees, we breathe in these phytoncides and they help improve our immunity too.
Self isolation or self realisation? The choice is yours…
Forest bathing is one of the many options available to relax and stay calm in these chaotic times. Mental health should be the topmost priority for all of us. Even as we undertake social distancing, technology allows us to stay connected with our near and dear one – let’s reach out virtually to make sure everyone is ok.
It is going to take the world a few months to recover for the coronavirus crisis; why don’t we use this time to connect with our souls and who knows, we may truly become a better version of ourselves?