Japanese hot springs in autumn

Shinrin-Yoku: Taking in the Forest Through Our Senses

Japan is considered to be one of the most heavily forested countries in the world. There is about 62.3 million acres of woods in Japan. Forests covers two-thirds of the country’s mountainous regions. Many of it from popular anime have been inspired by real woodlands. The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine (白谷雲水峡) was the inspiration for the magical forest of “Princess Mononoke” an epic anime historical fantasy from Studio Ghibli.

Bamboo forest in Kyoto

Bamboo forest in Kyoto.

The sounds of the birds chirping, how the rays of the sunlight shine through the trees, the smell of the earth, flowers and leaves all intermingling, the sights and sounds of nature somehow gives us a sense of calming comfort. All our senses seem to be relieved of everyday stress and worry. It helps us to relax and focus our thoughts more clearly. The sense of being with nature restores our energy and rejuvenates our overall wellbeing.

The practice of “nature therapy” or “ecotherapy” can describe a number of techniques with the goal of improving one’s mental or physical health with the person’s presence outdoors or surrounded by nature. This concept is based on the principles of ecopsychology, which focuses on how we feel interconnected with the earth. Ecotherapy is a form of psychotherapy with the idea of biophilia -people’s bond between themselves and other ecosystems.

Mt. Tarumae Forest Road, Hokkaido.

In Japan, there is a practice known as Shinrin-yoku (森林浴) literally meaning “forest bath” – a practice of “bathing” in nature with the purpose of receiving therapeutic benefits. It combines a range of activities in an outdoor environment such as horticultural therapy and garden therapy. The practice began in Japan in the 1980’s and was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The popularity of shinrin-yoku has since spread around the world.

The practice of Shinrin-yoku simply involves taking as much time as you can out of your busy life, and commune with nature. It can be in any form that is convenient and available to you. Research has shown that across 24 various forests in Japan, spending some time in a forest environment can decrease the concentrations of cortisol, lower blood pressure, pulse rate, sympathetic nerve energy and increase parasympathetic nerve activity. Getting some fresh air and taking in the beauty nature can only be good for you. It’s the best way to relax your body and mind.