Forest Bathing: Being Outside, Mindfully

The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku is gaining traction across Western cultures. Shinrin means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” Forest bathing, or soaking in the atmosphere of nature through our senses, is a restorative habit. As the arts connect the dots of a shared human experience, the practice of joining with nature through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch also acts as a bridge between people and the natural world.

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and the weather gets colder, finding time or space for just being in nature can prove a challenge. But there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. 

Growing up in northwestern New York, temperatures regularly dropped below zero and often included a windchill factor of up to -30℉. Needless to say, down jackets, wool scarves, hats, insulated waterproof boots and gloves, and water-repellent snowpants were required materials for any amount of time spent outside between late October and May. 

Don’t let the cold weather stop you from taking time to be outside! Here’s why: forest bathing, or any amount of time outdoors spent in a mindful way, can improve mood, reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, and increase vigor, all measurable physical and mental benefits that we could use, especially in times like these.

Some practical, how-to tips follow:

  • Find a spot: leave your phone and camera at home; a single, favorite tree or green space close by is all you need. Your backyard totally counts!
  • Winter ways to forest bathe include bundling up for a snowshoe walk around a nearby canyon, sledding with your family, skiing or snowboarding, or a simple and easy walk around the neighborhood.
  • Forgo expectations: walk slowly, let your body be your guide; don’t move with a destination in mind. 
  • Focus on your senses: let nature enter your body through your ears, nose, mouth, eyes, hands, and feet. Listen to the sound of leaves rustling, the silence of grass or the crunch of snow underfoot. Take off your shoes (if it’s warm enough!). Hear the birds or the wind. Pay attention to the different shades of green or browns around you. Is there frost on the grass or a fallen leaf? Feel the crinkle sounds of broken crystals when you walk on the frozen grass. Notice the patterns of light and how they change. Drink in deep breaths of air. Lie on the ground. Make a snow angel. Feel the wind across your face or the light burn of cold air inside your nose as you slowly breathe in. Smell the fragrance of a tree trunk and fill your nose with the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides
  • Forget fitness: forest bathing is not designed exclusively for exercise. Meant to inspire relaxation, tailor your experience to fit your needs: invite a friend, go with your child on a nature scavenger walk, bring a paper and pencil to sketch or write, share a picnic, stretch, or practice T’ai chi, meditation, or mindfulness exercises.

MAKING ART WHILE FOREST BATHING

Seedheads as a natural monogram
Fungi as a natural monogram
A natural monogram using leaves

Kate, a self-described “mum, wife and career woman who dabbles in many different things and is never happier than when spinning one-too-many plates,” is an all-media artist living in the United Kingdom. She explains a mindful way to fully immerse in nature while doing something as simple as going on a walk with her son Harry. See what earth-given gifts Kate found to create art while forest bathing: 

An ombre hue of leaves
A love letter to the earth
A gold-glazed bowl of acorns (click here for the how-to)

Jessica Collins, founder of Forest Bathing Central, offers more tips for how to forest bathe in the colder months:

  • Nature Micro-dosing: Even spending a few moments walking outside can alleviate stress and add calm feelings to your day. Inhale a slow, deep breath of cool air through your nose and hold for four steps, then exhale through your mouth, slowly, for six counts (or eight, if you can!). Repeat three times. Take off your glove and touch a tree with both hands. Put your nose close and inhale the scent of the trunk. Listen to the crunch of your feet through the snow or dried leaves. Pause in your walk, close your eyes, and hear the loudest sounds around you, then focus your attention on the quietest sounds you can hear.
  • Massage Your Senses: find forest images online and spend a few minutes taking in the sights; expose your ears to forest and nature sounds, paying close attention for a few moments: birds, rushing water, wind, waves; diffuse pine, eucalyptus, or cedar essential oils and breathe deeply (or put a few drops in the bottom of your sink, turn on the hot water, and take a few breaths). Or, fill a bath with steaming water and make an essential-oil infused bath to experience the relaxing and immune-boosting benefits of a pine forest.
  • Nature Visualization: Go forest bathing in your head. Remember a favorite nature walk or hike, and carefully place awareness on specific sights, colors, sounds, smells, and tactile feelings–perhaps it’s cool moss or warm sand under your feet, the rustle of leaves, the color of a fall tree, or the sparkle of the lake at the summit.

As the days grow colder, remember the practice of shinrin-yoku: get outside, even for a moment. Breathe deeply. Notice your surroundings. See what art you can make from Earth’s materials. Create calm.

Now, it’s your turn. Share your description of a favorite nature scene in the comments! We love hearing from you and want our community to grow from interacting together in this space.

A BYU ARTS Partnership editor, Nora Ballantyne is a New York native with a passion for art, pastries, kitchen dance parties, and books.

Comments (2)
  • For close by I love heading up the trail to Spanish Fork Peak (many people call it Maple Mountain). During summer and fall I love being in the high mountains. My goal is to climb all 54 14ers in Colorado. Those are the mountains above 14,000 feet. I have 40 done so far.

    • Chris–That’s amazing you have already climbed 40! Nice work. Being in the mountains is incomparable. Keep up the great work. What do you do in the wintertime?

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