Time in the trees good for the soul

Forest bathing allows you to soak in the experience of being in nature. PHOTO: TNS
Forest bathing allows you to soak in the experience of being in nature. PHOTO: TNS
There’s a Zen saying: "You should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re busy - then you should sit for an hour," writes life coach Jan Aitken. 

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
Like many, I spend most of my working week indoors and then running around playing catch-up on chores during the weekend. It’s easy for a week to go by without spending any "dedicated" time outdoors. By that I mean spending time in nature, going to the beach, walking in the forest or simply working in the garden.

Our lives are predominantly more indoor and sedentary than our predecessors. Combine that with our burgeoning use of screens and devices and it’s easy to see that we’ve become disconnected from nature. We’re out of balance.

Balancing it with some technology-free outside time makes a lot of sense. We know that we need about 20 minutes of sun exposure a day (outside of the high UV times of the day, especially in summer) to absorb vitamin D and to help regulate our sleep cycle, but what else does getting some outside time do for us?

Research spanning 15 years is showing that exposure to nature can help elevate mood, lower stress, anxiety and depression levels, boost your immune system, reduce anger, increase self-esteem and improve your physical health among many other benefits.

The Japanese practise something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku (shinrin in Japanese means forest, and yoku means bath). So shinrin-yoku translates as bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through your senses.

It’s not exercise as such, it’s simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge: by using all our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

So how do you go about forest bathing?

First, find a forest or stand of trees. Put your phone on silent and leave it in a pocket. You’re going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Follow your nose and take your time: it doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere as you are not going anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and "letting the forest in". Walk, sit, stand or lie down.

The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in using the five senses. Let nature in through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth and touch. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground and just soak it all in.

Don’t fancy forest bathing? Prefer something a bit more active?

It doesn’t need to be a major event or involve spending money on expensive equipment. It can be as simple as a walk in the park, pottering about your garden, walk along the beach, take the dog for a run, try out some of the tracks and parks around you, visit the local botanical garden.

It can be five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes — it really doesn’t matter. We’re incredibly lucky in New Zealand to be so close to green spaces, tracks, beaches, ski fields, lakes and rivers and now more than ever is a fantastic time to get out and about in our own beautiful country.

So get outside, connect with nature, take a look around you and feel the breeze on your face.

Being out in nature has the power to re-balance the body, mind and soul. The old saying "take some time to smell the roses" suddenly makes a lot of sense.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz.

Twitter:@jan-aitken

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