It’s late June, and I find myself in Quarry Lake Park in Canmore, Alberta for a wedding. After the ceremony is over, I stray from the group, leaving the others to take pictures with the bride and groom. I follow a path past the lake, no destination in mind, and soon find myself walking into the forest.
About five minutes down the trail, I notice a smaller, unpaved path that leads deeper into the woods. Being the curious person I am (and having an affinity for straying from the path, both figuratively and metaphorically) I turn toward it, leaving the concrete behind.
As I walk deeper into the woods, the sounds of children laughing and dogs barking slowly fades until all I can hear is the occasional bird call and the rustle of leaves in the breeze.
I stop where I am and stand motionless, looking around at all the different trees and plants. I inhale the scent of fresh spruces, count the wild strawberry plants, notice a lone birch tree, it’s trunk a stark white against the sea of the brown bark of the pine trees.
I stand in silence for several minutes and let the glassy stillness wash over me before heading back to the main path, taking my time as I wind past ferns and fallen trees. When I emerge, I feel as though I’ve meditated for an hour, though I’ve only been gone ten minutes.
Thinking back now, I haven’t felt that renewed in months – in fact, the last time I felt that tranquil was when I went hiking on a trail near my house several months ago. And I found that for the following few days, my creativity and desire to write spiked. What is it about the forest that makes me feel so good?
Curious (as I am), I did some research when I got back to the hotel and discovered “forest bathing.” Forest bathing, or Shrinrin-Yoku in Japanese (where the practice originated), is the act of immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere and soaking up the energy plants give off.
Forest bathing isn’t about movement necessarily – it’s more about just being in a natural environment, as opposed to being surrounded by concrete and buildings, as most of us are in our daily lives.
Most of us have likely participated in forest bathing without knowing. Have you ever walked slowly through a forest, mindful of the sounds and scents around you, ignoring your phone or camera and just being in the moment? Congrats, you’ve practiced forest bathing!
Forest bathing isn’t hard to do, and is an excellent way to improve your health. It’s been shown that forest bathing can improve your mood, decrease stress, increase your focus (something that is very appealing to me), and increase energy levels, among other benefits.
But why does being mindful in nature have such amazing health benefits? It could be any number of things – being in nature disconnects you from technology, lowers the stress hormone cortisol, and breathing fresh air increases feelings of well-being by increasing levels of serotonin.
And, of course, it’ll help you feel more connected to nature – something that I think a lot of us have lost touch with, given our current lifestyles. I personally know I spend more time than I’d like to admit sitting in front of a laptop each day – my work and favorite hobby (shout out to the writers out there!) dictate that I do.
But I don’t have to stay indoors, and neither do you. Take your laptop out on your deck and get some work done there, and when you need a break, go find a forest or park to sit in. You’ll be surprised at how good you feel at the end of the day.