“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter” (Rachel Carson)
The evening light is fading, offering a more subtle palette of colours. Birds, hidden in the high trees and bushes set out for a final serenade. A strong aroma of earth, grass and flowers fills the air. Rain that fell in the hours leading up to the shinrin-yoku walk, has refreshed the atmosphere. Light reflects on thousands of raindrops that rest on top of flowers, plants, leaves and spiderwebs, turning them into little diamonds. The south-western wind brings in lyrics from a song by boaters, navigating the Amstel river in the distance during this golden hour. Human visitors to the Amstelpark are scarce at this time of the day. A curious rabbit observes us from a distance. I pour seven wooden cups of fresh herbal tea, six for us, one to offer back to Nature. We sit in a small circle on the grass, above us huge branches of two sycamore trees. This is my favo moment of a shinrin-yoku walk: the tea ceremony. A moment for participants to share, if they wish, their experiences with each other.
During tea – the final part of a shinrin-yoku walk -, many participants share that by truly slowing down and focusing explicitly on their senses, they experience a deeper connection. To the present moment, present place and their present state of being. This gives them focus, inspiration, calmness, joy and a feeling of deep relaxation.
Often, participants say they feel an elevation and rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit.
Some participants also share what for them constitutes a ´door of connection´ to nature: “When we focused our attention on the sounds of the spot in the dunes where we were standing, I realized that for me, my sense of hearing really re-directs me away from the business in my head into the now. That’s so relaxing. Something I will do again when I am in nature.” Or: “The floral scents I smelled during one of the ‘invitations’ on the walk in a deserted Amstel park brought me back to where my passion as a chef originated, and how much I like to experiment with fresh herbs in dishes.”
What is known about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku or nature immersion, in which you engage as many senses as possible and aim to be truly present in the moment? In his book, ‘Shinrin-yoku. The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation’ (2018), Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki shares the results of his 29 years of research in this field:
– Increased relaxation of the body due to increased activity in the parasympathetic nervous system;
– Reduced stress of the body due to a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity;
– Reduction in blood pressure after only 15 minutes of forest bathing;
– Reduced feelings of stress and a general sense of wellbeing;
– Reduction in blood pressure after 1 day of forest bathing, which effects last up to 5 days after taking the forest bath;
– Strengthened immune system and improvement of weakened immunity, with an increase in the count of natural killer cells, which are known to fight tumours and infection.
Miyazaki’s research into the effects of nature immersion on human beings has extended as far as considering the effects of looking at a bouquet of cut flowers or a pot plant or smelling naturally dried wood (as opposed to treated wood). More specifically, Miyazaki has examined their calming effects on the human body and mind, which may or may not lead to physiological relaxation and immune function recovery. This of course, in turn can help prevent illnesses.
Miyazaki concluded that by feeling part of your natural surroundings and the web of life as opposed to feel separate from it, your overall feeling of well-being increases. Further, a thing that we humans often have lost due to our disconnect to nature, is an understanding of the vital importance of community. Finally, there’s the positive impact of taking in the nature atmosphere, such as phytoncides (the chemicals released by plants and trees), ions and the earth’s surface electrons, for your body system.
If you are interested, there’s ongoing research on the health benefits of the practice of shinrin-yoku and nature connection. Do have a look at the Forest Library for a collection of the latest articles on the health benefits of shinrin-yoku and nature connection by popular press, as well as rigorously researched and peer-reviewed studies in this field: https://www.theforestlibrary.com/forest-bathing-online-articles
Or… just try a guided shinrin-yoku walk to experience the results for yourself, and learn how to really slow down, relax and reconnect with nature, while being guided by a certified guide. For upcoming walks in Amsterdam or its surrounding forests/seaside, please check my website www.shinrin-yokuclub.com.
“Make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, and match your nature with Nature” (Joseph Campbell)
From my heart to yours! Marjolein