Please join me for a little impromptu meditation. Imagine you are at work. Florescent lights are bathing your skin. Your breathing is erratic. Your heart rate is up. You are on your second cup of coffee…
How’d that work for ya?
The environments that we find ourselves in in our day-to-day lives are not exactly relaxing places. They are designed to help us to get the job done. Stark modern landscapes can definitely keep us awake, but they certainly aren’t bamboo forests with cascading waterfalls (and if I have just described your workplace, please email me and I will respond with my CV).
You may have already heard of Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing. Japan might be an island of 128 million but they still recognize the importance and the health of alone time. It is not the quantity of alone time, but the quality that matters.
The Japanese have been so sold by the idea of forest bathing that they have created 48 accredited Shinrin Yoku forests. It’s even possible to get certified as a Forest Therapy Guide, which requires far more than a good sense of direction. You have to be dedicated to recognizing that being outside is not enough. It is being outside with purpose. Luxuriating in nature.
How Nature Impacts Our Health
We have heard a lot about the benefits of a nature-rich diet, but here is some of the science. A leisurely forest walk will decrease your cortisol levels (be gone ugly stress hormones). It also increases your level of adiponectin, which is a protein hormone that modulates a number of metabolic processes. Forest bathing also decreases your blood pressure and makes it less likely for you to become addicted to texting. I just made up that last one, but it is probably true.
Think about it. There are more and more of us concentrated in urban areas. More people together means more opportunities (and more Starbucks franchises) but also more stress. Walking in a forest can be considered preventative medicine in the same way that acupuncture or a yoga class can be.
Mindfulness in the Wilderness
Of course, how you do it is important. If you spend the whole time complaining about how onerous your mother-in-law is, likely the bathing in greenery thing will not have its best possible effect. It is a slow nature movement. Linger. Sit down and watch its pace. Listen to its sounds.
As you do so, you will not only release your anxiety, but studies show that you might even become more empathetic. You might become the kind of person who lends out the stapler to your notoriously forgetful co-worker. Because, after all, it is only a stapler.
This can be a brilliant solution for people slightly daunted by the experience of meditating. A common statement with a new meditator is the “I can’t turn my brain off” declaration. Think of thoughts like waves in the ocean. You don’t judge the ocean for having waves, do you? It's part of the deal. Thoughts come and go. Whether you are on a meditation cushion discovering this fact or in a piece of greenery far removed from the technology that pervades our day-to-day lives doesn’t matter. We need a break from our 'on' buttons.
Being present in nature used to be a given. Now it is perceived as a gift. Breathe in the air. Leave your FitBit at home. Technology has granted us a lot of things, but it doesn’t appear that free time is one of them.
You don’t have to be Japanese to see the astounding benefits to regular forest elixirs. This is your brain. This is your brain on nature.
Want to learn more? Try this book.