This morning, I took a walk in the woods.
While this may sound like a pleasant idle to most, I happen to strongly dislike walking. I’m a long-distance runner, ran D1 in college, and will admit to being partial to the feel-good endorphins running produces.
On any given day I would much rather be running than walking. I mean, why walk when you can run?
However, as an editor with tight deadlines and multiple stories to pursue at any given moment, I’ve been finding myself overwhelmed and overly stressed in the last few months – especially given everything else going on in the world.
High intensity exercise, like running, while wonderful for increasing longevity and heart health, also produces a stress response. Added stress was something I needed to avoid today.
So, begrudgingly, I went on a walk in the woods.
The Benefits of Being In Nature
New research is exploring the physiological impact being in nature has on our emotional state. This work supports the theory that just being in nature has the potential to help us feel joyful, calm, and filled with contentment.
As environmentalist, Andy Goldworthy, has so aptly stated:
“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”Andy Goldworthy, Environmentalist
Re-Wilding Your Daily Routine with Forest Bathing
So if we’ve lost our connection to nature, how do we bring it back into our daily lives?
The answer it turns out, may be as simple as a walk in the woods.
Dr. Qing Li, a scientist from Japan, has been studying the effects of forest bathing for years. In Japan, they call the ritual shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” Dr. Qing Li, who has written an entire book on the subject, describes forest bathing as the bridge that connects us to the natural world.
As more and more people move to cities, and spend the majority of their lives indoors, the bridge back to nature is becoming ever-more critical.
The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
Dr. Qing Li has conducted extensive research on the health benefits of forest bathing, and the results are intriguing. Forest bathing has the potential to lower your heart rate, reduce depression, anxiety, and confusion, and decrease stress hormone levels – effects that lead to better health outcomes.
I’d been studying Dr. Qing Li’s work on forest bathing for a while now, and was eager to feel the calming effects for myself. So I put on my favorite hiking boots, and my favorite jacket, and set off to feel the effects of nature. Dr. Qing Li’s advice? Let your senses guide you, take your time, and definitely do not bring your phone with you. The point is not to go anywhere or do anything – it’s simply to be in the forest, observing nature’s subtle acts and letting the forest speak to you.
A Walk in The Woods
After a short hike up what -during wintertime- is an easy ski slope, I entered a completely wooded area, and the small Bavarian village where I live could no longer be seen.
At first I felt hesitant to be this vulnerable, this submerged in nature. But as soon as I remembered that – I am nature- I felt at ease.
The smell of the trees, the damp earth, the decomposing logs, and faint sweetness of wild flowers took over, and my to-do list slowly drifted away. In its place was a sense of awe and gratitude that we live in such an amazingly perfect biosphere called planet earth.
Stop To Smell The Wild Flowers
Instead of rushing to gain mileage, I took time to stop and observe fungi growly on an old tree stump; I noticed there were chaga mushrooms growing high in the aspens; I came across a tiny brook babbling along on and minding its own business; and I stopped to admire the delicate sprinkling of wildflowers popping up in spite of the density of the forest floor.
It was pure magic. It brought me peace. And I can’t wait to do it again.
Beginner Tips For Forest Bathing
WOW Tip: if you’re a beginner hiker or new to the outdoors, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt forest bathing alone.
Make sure to go with an experienced hiker or hire a guide.
The woods are dangerous whether you are an expert or beginner, so:
- know before you go (study the flora and fauna in your neck of the woods);
- carry plenty of water;
- wear protective clothing, hiking boots, and;
- bring sunscreen, plus;
- always go with a friend (buddy system is best).