Tuesday 23rd February 2021

Day 7 Shinrin-yoku: Nature Bathing

The Japanese have a term: Shinrin-yoku, which means “nature bathing”. It is about taking time to go out into the woods, the parks, or other places of natural beauty, and bathe in the healing power of nature. Is it not the same as sun bathing then? Not really, though sun bathing could be part of it. In Shinrin-yoku it is not just about bathing in the sun, but also under the stars, the shade of trees, in rain, in cold, in the wind, and allowing all the natural elements to feed us in body, mind and spirit. Neither is it just about sitting or lying there and soaking it in, though again that is one way to do it. In nature bathing you can be working in the garden, taking a walk, going for a swim, or even a run. The point of it is to be outdoors in the natural world and allow its healing touch to work in your life.
I spoke yesterday of the man I met in the woods, who was discovering that spending an hour or so there was having a profound effect on his moods in his battle with depression. There are many other testimonies like that. Getting out into the open air has been proven to help in dealing with stress, anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and generally helping people feel healthier and happier. So why are we so reluctant to make a commitment to it?
We seem to live in an age where the outdoors is mistrusted. In the recent covid pandemic we were told to stay indoors for the sake of our health, and that seems to have become something we have simply done too much of in recent years. I remember as a child hardly ever being indoors, we would be out exploring, playing football or cricket, making dens, going for bike rides, climbing trees (never my strongest point!) or generally being a nuisance (something I was better at!).
Yes, the world has changed somewhat, and perhaps we cannot have the same freedom today, you have to be more careful as children and adults. But we do need to spend much more time outdoors than we do; whatever our age, we need a lot more Shinrin-yoku in our daily lives. It is not just nature bathing, it is also God-bathing. Modern day religion has put far too much emphasis on indoor spirituality, where our spiritual practice takes place behind closed doors. Shinrin-yoku is very much a spiritual practice we would do well to rediscover.

From Psalm 23 (paraphrased)

You call me to lay down in green pastures,
and lead me to wander beside the still waters.
Through them you prepare a banquet before me,
you anoint my head with gladness,
you restore my soul,
and the cup of my heart overflows with gladness.

Shinrin-yoku, nature bathing;
soaking in the sun, the rain,
the cold, the warmth.
Letting nature embrace you,
renew and refresh you;
allowing yourself to be opened,
like the first bud of spring.

Walking or sitting, lying or strolling,
In meadow, wood, garden or park.
It does not really matter,
as long as you are exposed to
what does really matter.
Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese call it;
engaging with nature is at the heart of it;
and through it with God.

Sarah Ivens

The benefits of forest therapy in part, it is suggested,
are due to various essential oils that are derived from plants;
when grouped together these are called phytoncides.
These are airborne chemicals with antibacterial and antifungal qualities
that plants and trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.
But phytoncides aren’t merely selfish lifesavers looking after only themselves.
Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better for us,
scientists now know that it actually is better for us.
Inhaling forest air, fortified with these phytoncides,
appears to improve the function of the immune systems of humans too.