‘Shinrin-yoku’ is the Japanese method of ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or being one with nature. Forest Bathing is the art of plunging oneself in nature to revitalise and enliven the mind, body, energy and to trigger the therapeutic elements of nature. To appreciate its restorative properties, one has to decipher the five elements — Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space — we share with nature. It is rejuvenating, comforting and has a calming effect on us.
Speaking about forest bathing, Indroneil Mukerjee, an accomplished Bach Flower therapist and a transformational Life Coach, says, “A therapy, the essence of which is being in nature, awakens the nature within us. This outside-in approach can provide immense relief to conditions that are mainly caused by being submerged in unnatural surroundings for prolonged period, like anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and stress.”
Being immersed in nature for at least 20 minutes daily or two hours once a week is beneficial for health and also boosts immunity. And by being fully immersed implies engaging all five senses — touching a tree trunk, listening to the sounds of birds, smelling the forest air, dipping one’s hands or feet in a running stream, sitting in a meditative state in natural environs, are part of forest bathing.
A typical session is spread over two hours. This is ample time to indulge in a natural setting (especially for beginners). The guide usually invites the participants to immerse in their surroundings and dive deeper into what they are feeling in the moment and connect with themselves. Dipika Sinha, Delhi-based guide and founder of Forest Therapy India shares, “The participants are requested to leave their electronic gadgets behind or switch them off for the session. The idea is to be wholly present and experience every bit of ‘this moment’ with all five senses. This is usually done through small activities, for instance, to simply observe the surroundings, soak it all in, allow thoughts to flow, feel the different textures, experience the various smells and sounds and make their notes about what resonates with them or what triggers an emotion, and it does bring out an array of emotions.”
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Dipika informs they have received a great response from people of all age groups and corporates. “We consciously keep our sessions for a small, intimate gathering, which allows for a more meaningful experience. With a smaller group, the session is easier to guide and it makes for a more enriching experience,” she informs.
This experience can be enjoyed even without a guide. Anyone can go forest bathing by themselves and immerse in a natural setting and reap the benefits instantly. “It is like deep sea diving with an instructor by your side. You learn to not just enjoy the beauty of the experience but you also soak in all that the vast ocean has to offer; the bright and shiny treasures and its dark depths that is a more enriching and holistic experience,” points out Dipika.
While it may provide intense relief to one’s emotional well-being (and physical conditions caused by the imbalance) it’s not clear if the therapy can actually heal the conditions. “It’s important to practice shinrin-yoku without any agenda or resorting to any technique. Allowing oneself to be in a gentle flow, merging with the forest and soaking in the energy naturally, is the key,” Indroneil explains.
Certified courses for guides
There are various institutes that offer forest bathing guide training courses. “I completed mine from the Forest Therapy Institute’s guide training programme in Ireland in 2019. It was a seven-day immersive session, which was conducted in the beautiful Irish countryside followed by a 12-week training and mentored practice through online classes,” says Dipika.
There are several organisations in Ireland offering the course. Some of which are Forest Therapy Hub, Nadur Forest Therapy, and The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. There aren’t many places offering this course in India yet. DElotus Advaya Holistic Solutions offers an online course in forest bathing.
Best forest zones
Annekal Reserved Forest in the Western Ghats, Bandipur National Park in Karnataka, Mollem National Park in Goa, and the forests around Binsar, Jageshwar, and the Kilbury forest in Pangot offer a great space for an immersive forest experience.
“For city dwellers in Mumbai, Borivali National Park is a great location. Usually, the retreats in the hills of Uttarakhand are popular zones with enthusiasts from the Delhi-NCR region. However, folks in Pune, Bangalore, Coimbatore and other regions too express interest to experience forest bathing,” reveals Nishant Pujari, a guide and naturalist from Coorg.