April, 2017

Shinrin-yoku. The medicine of forest bathing

shrinrin-yoku forest bathing | sacred flow

Waterfall Forest – Cascade park in Mill Valley, CA

In a world that seems to turn mechanical, I can’t help but feel drawn to all that is organic and pulsing with aliveness. My senses begin to awaken in such embodied presence. Some places take us to a state of connection we long to inhabit, where our essence can blossom, uninhibited, unbridled, and free. The noise of the world and the chatter in our minds begin to quiet down as we enter sacred space in nature, sacred space in ourselves.

When I feel pain in my heart, stress in my body or confusion in my mind, I go to nature as a refuge and medicine for my weary soul, a place where I can replenish my being, where my fragmented energy can become coherent and whole again. There is a beautiful little forest in Marin that calls to me on a regular basis, where I go to connect to Spirit, to Mother Earth, and to myself. It has become my sanctuary.  It feels enchanting, magical, alive.  When I sit on the ground in this forest, I can feel myself dropping into my body, relaxing, breathing more gracefully. It has a calming and grounding presence.

The Japanese language has a beautiful term for bathing in forest energy–Shinrin-yoku. Have you heard of it? Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese tradition with Shinto and Buddhist origins. I love its shamanic undertones. My appreciation for this practice also stems from my love of bathing in general as a cleansing and invigorating ritual that connects body and soul. I love that we can bathe not just in water but also in forest energy.

Scientific research is just confirming its therapeutic benefits to release stress.  This article states that forest bathing is “proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.”   Not only do forest environments have a positive effect on the body, they also “soothe the spirit” as psychological studies have shown. Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist and vice director of Chiba University’s Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences emphasizes “that spending time in nature helps facilitate a feeling of comfort because our rhythms become synchronized with those of the environment.”(article by Florence Williams)

I first heard about this practice that struck a chord in my heart on a Lyft ride I shared with a man in San Francisco on my way to work about two months ago. It was a Monday and I had just spent my Sunday doing precisely what this man encapsulated in this beautiful term that he shared with me. Shinrin-yoku has come up in multiple places since then. Forest bathing seems to be bubbling up from the wells of the collective life that binds us all together–the collective unconscious. I love to see that deep down, many of us are yearning for the wild. I love to see us craving healing. Nature brings us home because we are part of it.

Beyond all our inhibitions, prejudices, and fears
beyond the lines that limit our becoming
beyond the stifling constructs that constrain our life force
beyond the walls, masks, and judgements that separate us
beyond the fears that shrink our hearts and dim our light

there is a wild zone that seeks space
a raw dimension that yearns for connection
a love too big to contain, big enough to shatter our illusions
and wake us up

If we get still enough
we can listen deeply to the song in our hearts
the beat of the earth that whispers
to inhabit ourselves fully, calling us to to release and drop all that burdens us, inspiring us to reawaken the subdued, tamed, and tangled fragments of our being.

~~~

Moss in the roots of a tree

shrinrin-yoku forest bathing | sacred flow

Cascade

shrinrin-yoku forest bathing | sacred flow

Stream

You didn’t come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here.”
Alan Watts

~~~

I dedicate these words to all that is reawakening in our bodies, in our hearts, and in our consciousness; to all that is wild, free, and luminous; to all that is pulsing with love, awareness, and the oneness that we are.