#031 Hi there, my name is Ann Théato and I am here to teach you proven techniques for spiritual and psychic development from the comfort of your own home. I’m also here to investigate the teachings of experts across the globe, to bring you their wisdom, their advice and their spiritual wealth.
Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve our mood and boost feeling of happiness. But not all of us have easy access to a forest or even a garden. As human beings we have a deep connection to nature and if we do not nourish that bond, we can begin to suffer in many different ways. This episode is about the Japanese Art of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, which means taking in the atmosphere of the forest.
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Hello everybody! My name is Ann Théato and welcome to the Psychic Matters Podcast – episode number 31.
Today I’m going to be talking to you about the Japanese Art of Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku (shin means wood, rin means grove, and yoku means bath). And what is it exactly? Well forest bathing simply means taking in the atmosphere of the forest. It was developed in Japan in the 1980’s when the Government introduced Shinrin-yoku as a national health programme. Translated into English it literally means forest bathing – being calm and quiet among the trees and taking in the forest atmosphere during a leisurely walk. It is an interesting ecotherapy and of course in Japan there are beautiful power spots for Shinrin-yoku, which change in magnificence and beauty, depending on which of the four seasons you choose for your forest bathing. You could return to exactly the same place, in a different season and never get bored.
But in Japan Shinrin-yoku has become a cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine. They recognised the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.
As humans we spend on average about 90% of our time in buildings. Add to that, a worldwide pandemic where most of us have spent months and months in lockdown across the world, locked in our own houses, unable to go outside apart from for necessities, and we have been increasingly disconnected not only from each other, but also from Mother Nature. Add to that our decreasing levels of physical activity and we have a recipe for profound affects, through no fault of our own, on our physical and mental health.
On top of that, as we are no longer able to see our friends and family, we have become over the past year, reliant on keeping connected to each other via technology. And unfortunately, excessive stimulation from technology can cause mental fatigue and loss of vitality. We prefer to focus on stress or distract ourselves by texting friends or scrolling endlessly through our social media platforms. Some of us are maybe blocking out the world outside by listening to music all the time. We have become a society who live too much in the realms of our troubled minds, to the extent that human mental health is suffering on a global basis.
In losing touch with nature, we lose touch with ourselves and this can often be a reason for our unhappiness, albeit perhaps one that we don’t acknowledge or we don’t think about. But our minds and lifestyles, especially in these current times, keep us separate from the natural world.
So many of us rarely take time to appreciate the beauty of sunlight through new leaves, or experience what peace there is to be found in a gentle breeze. We are too busy wrapped up in our busy lives and leave little space for appreciation and contemplation of the simple things around us.
But everything in the natural world is interlinked. If you look at a tree – it is not just comprised of a trunk, branches and leaves. Beneath the ground, its roots extend into the soil, absorbing minerals, vitamins and water and communicating with each other via a complex root system and underground fungal networks. And it’s through these networks, trees share water and nutrients; they send distress signals about drought, disease and insect attacks, which enables other trees to change their behaviour. Even older mother trees suckle their young saplings by pumping liquid sugar into their roots.
As human beings we too are interconnected. Sometimes we mistakenly perceive our ‘self’ to be separate, as if we are alone, just experiencing our lives solo but our own well-being is interlinked with that of the rest of life on Earth. We have forgotten we depend on nature for our food, clothing, houses and medicines. Most of our clothing comes from plants, such as cotton. We cure our pains with Aspirin, made from willow-bark extract.
Trees release chemicals called Phytoncides, which we breathe in when we spend time in the forest. These have been proven in studies to enhance the activity of natural killer cells that help our bodies to fight disease and they have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system.
Forest Bathing is time well spent and combines the physical and mental wellbeing benefits of being in the forest with the spiritual benefits of meditation.
The benefits of being in nature are so powerful that even pictures of landscapes can soothe. By spending three to five minutes looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water, you can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and begin to experience instead relaxation and lower blood pressure. For those in hospital, or confined to the house, even a view from the window can make a difference. Dr Ulrich was one of the first to demonstrate that gazing out at a garden or a view can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other ailments and it was because of his work that many hospitals and hospices created the way a for hospital gardens and hospital forests.
Shinrin-yoku can also reduce blood pressure which is obviously crucial in maintaining a healthy heart; it can lower cortisol levels (which is your stress hormones which are released obviously when the body is under stress); it can improve concentration & memory; and forest bathing can help with Improving your sleep and rebalancing the mind and body; it results in positive outcomes for attention, anger, fatigue and sadness and interestingly, studies show that children with ADHD concentrate better in woodland environments than in urban environments
So Forest bathing has become this very, very popular culture across the world and here in the UK, both the National Trust and Forestry England have got guides on Britain’s most therapeutic forests. So if you go to their respective websites you can have a look for a list of the best forests to go to for your Shinrin-yoku therapy. There is also an organisation called The Association Of Nature & Forest Therapy and they run programmes and workshops across the globe. So if you wanted to go and train to be a guide and teaching other people how to bathe in a forest, you can go and do one of their training programmes to be a guide or if you want to be taken out by one of their guides into a forest and have that experience with a professional. then I can highly recommend that you look them up.
So just going back then to Shinrin-yoku, in Japan it's more than just relaxing, it is a therapy for washing or cleansing and refreshing the soul. So you use all of your senses: you use your eyes for watching and observing the colours maybe green, brown, orange, and the beauty of the colours, or perhaps the way the sunlight touches them or you might use your nose for smelling the trees, the leaves, the flowers, the air, taking in the scent of the dew or the rainwater etc. You might use your ears, so you would be listening out for the sounds of the forest, listening to the birds singing and all the other sounds and noises of nature, perhaps bees humming, etc. Your touch would be used for feeling the breeze on your skin or the temperature of the air etc., and your soul would be expanding to be in the wonder and joy of nature and of course Shinto is the Japanese national religion, where they are very aware that they feel God naturally in nature, consciously or unconsciously.
So how do we do this? How do we bathe in the forest atmosphere? Well first of all, I think it's a good idea to put some time aside. So you may need to put aside two or four hours, a really good chunk of time, because remember, you're going to be making several stops. You're not just going to be whipping through the forest, “Yes, lovely, that smells nice, great, lovely colours, yes, right, let's go home, got things to do…” that’s not quite the idea. You need to set aside a really good amount of time because you're going to be making several stops sitting still, being mindful, and being fully immersed in the experience. So, it's a good idea maybe to research forests that are close to you, forests close to the areas in which you live, and try and find one that's clear and accessible and with maybe, easy to navigate trails, because that will allow you to walk along the trail in the forest and to relax and really focus on your surroundings during your time out, rather than being very anxious and on guard. And remember that this is not meant to be physically challenging, it's meant to be very peaceful, so make sure that you choose a forest with trails that are clear of any physical barriers. They are the best ones.
Secondly, make sure you've left your phone and your camera behind. You're going to be walking aimlessly and slowly and you don't need any devices with you, so you’re gonna let your body be your guide, you’re going to listen to where it wants to take you in the forest. Follow your nose, take your time. If you've got a forest that is really dense with trees, you can touch them with your hands and your palms and your fingertips and perhaps your forest, your local forest has the sounds of streams or ponds or a little brook or a river even, which will enhance your experience or maybe there's parts where there are meadows and flowers. So they’re very good if you want to smell and engage with the scent of your environment or maybe a combination of all different things like canopy's overhead or open spaces like meadows, so then you would be experiencing different lights hitting the environment and different sounds, etc.
So the first thing, you walk into your forest you stand still and you recognise that you have arrived in the space. Anyone who's taken a class with me knows that I often start by just saying, ‘Arrive in the space you've dedicated this time to you, so just allow your mind and your soul to catch up with your physical body.’
So, enter that forest and just be there and just stand still. And just recognise that your body is now standing in this forest environment. So this part of your forest bathing might take 15 minutes to complete. And this is a bit like stretching your body before an exercise, so when you enter the forest, you don't automatically begin to walk through it, but just arrive in the space, stand in just the one spot. So, just immerse yourself in that multi-sensory environment, quietly noticing things. So you might be quietly noticing trees, rocks, animals, you might become aware that your feet are firmly planted on the ground. You might want to touch something, you might want to touch the trunk of a tree, or just run your fingers over some leaves, or you might actually want to sit down on a warmed, sun warmed stone. So just become aware, when you first move into the forest, that you're acclimatising your physical body with the environment in which you now stand or sit.
And so using the senses, you might become aware of what you're listening to. The birds may be singing, you might hear the water splashing through the river or the brook, you might hear the leaves whistling in the wind, or rather rustling in the wind, if they are whistling it might be high wind, but recognise the air and the smell and the texture. Become aware of what the, what, what scent the air holds. What does it carry to you as you stand in this forest? What nature smells come to you? And you can close your eyes if it helps you to really immerse yourself in the experience. So breathing in the smells of the forest, the rich aromas perhaps of soil, or maybe there are flowers or certain forest plants that give off this beautiful scent.
How does this environment make you feel? And you're going to become very, very, observant looking at the smallest details in your natural environment. You're not going to be thinking about what you have to do at home or anything related to your everyday life, you’re going to leave all that behind and you're just going to drop into an effortless state of relaxation. And perhaps the colours of nature will begin to be observed by you. Studies apparently have shown that people relax best while they see greens and blues, so if you are in a forest with a blue sky above you this could be very beneficial.
And then walk very slowly through your environment, walking quietly, and as you listen out to the forest, just become aware of its natural rhythm and see if you can mirror that rhythm in your step, and try to mirror as you walk anything calm that you notice, such as if you see the leaves moving in a calm breeze. And pay attention to how you're breathing, what is your breathing pattern like while you're walking along? Can you tune in your whole physicality to match the rhythm in the environment around you? And after a while on your walk, you might want to find a really comfortable place in which to sit down. Somewhere comfortable where you might want to return time and again. It could be a dry spot in a field or you might find a beautiful fallen log or tree stump that's been cut down or anywhere really that you think would be a really good place for you to sit and contemplate. Once you find your chosen spot, sit there and quietly observe. Just stay there for 15 minutes, maybe 20, just observing everything that goes on. And you might want to go through your senses, your sight, sound, the touch, scent, the smell.
When you have finished forest bathing, we will have to return to our normal lives, but obviously it's good to do this gently and not in a hurry, and the traditional way for the Japanese Shinrin-yoku sessions, is to conclude with the tea ceremony, but here perhaps in the western world, you might want to have just a soft drink or a light snack just to begin the transition from the beautiful forest environment, to returning to everyday life
And during lockdown, well it's been going on for so long and I was stuck for so long in my block of flats in London. I was following all the government advice not to go out to go out, to go out just once a day, go out on a short walk and I had begun to feel very, very depressed and lethargic and I was absolutely craving nature, it was like a thirst in me. So one day in absolute despair, I set off on my bicycle and I discovered the most beautiful bicycle ride over Hampstead Heath, which is a large and ancient London Heath, which covers about 750 acres and the trail, the bike trail, took me through these majestic and veteran Oak trees some of which are over 500 years old. And it was there in that magical place, that my healing began and I returned every day, each time feeling renewed and invigorated and I realised just how vital it is to bring ourselves regularly back into harmony with Mother Nature.
And the other thing I realised is, this is all very well this forest bathing but not everybody has access to nature or a forest even. Some of us are stuck in our flats, we are stuck in towns and cities, we can't get to a local park etc., etc. So, what I've done is I've written a meditation called Forest Bathing and it's available on my website for just £3 pounds it's a beautiful meditation and it will take you step by step through a forest, as if it is a 3-dimensional experience. So I've got some beautiful sound effects on there, of a little brook, I've got the birds singing, I've got the bees humming, it is absolutely beautiful and it's just 15 minutes. If you did that every day, it would really help you to reconnect to nature and nourish that bond that we all have with Mother Nature herself. And you can find that on my website www.anntheato.com which is www.anntheato.com under SHOP simply.
All the links and resources mentioned in this episode can be found in the show notes, plus a full transcription and those are also over on my website so head over there and you can pick everything up. For now I just want to say thank you very much everybody for being wonderful Psychic Matters listeners and I look forward to serving you next week when I have an incredibly exciting guest. For now my name is Ann Théato and thank you for listening to PSYCHIC MATTERS.