I am a firm believer that being outside and surrounded by nature is good for you. It does something. It inspires and refreshes, de-stresses and clears the mind. From having urban planters in the office, to travelling in remote locations for months at a time, we can reconnect and de-stress from daily living. Natural environments still help humans after all these years of change and urbanisation.
For me, being outside in nature plays a part in my everyday routine; the combination of activity, the outdoors and nature creates the perfect recipe for inspiration and ultimately my happiness. It’s the relaxing combination of nature, wildlife and tranquillity that gives me the same results. What really matters is the feeling you get, not the size or timeframe of the experience itself.
The main focus for this short piece is a practice called Shinrin-Yoku, a Japanese medicine introduced by Japan in 1982 - also known as forest bathing.
When I first read the words forest bathing, I pictured people bathing in rivers with not much clothing on. Although bathing in rivers can be pretty relaxing, it’s not what Shinrin-Yoku is about. It’s about taking in the forest through our senses, connecting to the natural world through our sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. In Japan, Shinrin-Yoku is a form of medicine, it’s studied and researched by scientists and prescribed by doctors. Forests play a huge part in Japanese culture, not only for medical benefits but also for religious practices and historical reasons too. With two thirds of the country covered in forest, it’s no wonder Shinrin-Yoku was invented there and is part of many people’s lives.
In Japan, you can participate in Shinrin-Yoku on your own or as an experience led by qualified instructors. There are scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-Yoku including reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, boosted immune system function, improved mood, increased ability to focus, better sleep and increased energy levels are amongst the many benefits.
Flying to Japan every time we feel the need for these benefits may not be realistic, however the same outcomes can be achieved by spending time in forests anywhere. Forests are amazing - without them we wouldn’t be here. They produce oxygen and cleanse the air we breathe. They provide us with food, clothing, shelter and so much more. Spending time in forests shows us the sheer beauty and importance of them and it also encourages us to look after them.
Reading about Shinrin-Yoku has inspired me. Spending time in forests is something I have done since I was kid and I always feel better for it. Understanding the science has put proof in my own mind for the reason why - even though I didn’t need convincing.
I was so inspired by this Japanese practice, my colleague and I incorporated a Shinrin-Yoku walk as part of a three-day leadership programme in the Blue Mountains, Sydney, Australia. The results were great and although it’s something so simple, the results can have profound effects in the right context, time and mind set.
In summary, I would encourage everyone to enjoy nature and its benefits more often. Next time you are in a forest, take it all in through your senses. If forests aren’t an option, the outdoors offer the same benefits in many ways. Environments such as mountains, lakes, rivers, fields, parks, oceans, caves - anywhere you can feel part of it.
Nature is what we know as humans. Let’s get back to nature and enjoy its benefits. It doesn’t have to be something we do just on holiday or weekends, it can be part of everyday life if we want it. I know it makes you feel good, and for something so simple, it’s certainly worth a try.
Disclosure - Animals live in natural habitats, some may not be happy if you interrupt their own Shinrin-Yoku. Take care in all outdoor activities and experiences, be safe and respect nature.