Summer is the time when the outdoors beckon. Research shows that spending time in nature can positively impact mental health, stress levels, blood pressure, cholesterol and many other conditions. But not all of us live close to the great outdoors, and some of us wouldn’t call ourselves “outdoorsy,” even if we do. Don’t fret. You can still get the benefits of being outdoors, even if you live in a city or don’t enjoy hiking.
What is forest bathing, and how can I do it without a forest?
You may have heard of the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which involves doing a sort of mindfulness practice in the forest as a way to better health. But not everybody has access to a forest, or Japan, or two hours. Here’s how to practice the same skills and get some of the benefits, even if your “forest” is the city.
Step One: Unplug. Leave your phone (and your smartwatch) at home. Yes, really all the way at home. No, don’t put it in your pocket. Don’t do it you don’t need it. No you don’t need your music, or a podcast a symphony of outdoor sounds awaits you.
Step Two: Explore. No matter how well you think you know your neighborhood or the natural habitat you are visiting, take a stance of curiosity and adopt a “beginner’s mind” as you embark on your short journey. Let yourself wander, with no particular destination in mind or pace to maintain.
Step Three: Breathe. Let yourself be. Take some time to focus on your breath. Breathe deeply. Exhale deeply. Notice. When you find yourself obsessing about what you’re going to have for lunch or that meeting on Tuesday, bring your focus back to the breath. Repeat.
Step Four: Sense. The five senses are your doorway to the present and to a full experience, whether you’re in the forest, the mountains, a city park or a concrete jungle. Take some time to explore sight, sound, smell and, if appropriate, taste.
Step Five: Engage. Expand your experience by engaging with the world and landscape around you. Put your toes in the water or take your shoes off to feel the warm sidewalk. Get close to a bug on a leaf; or reach out to feel the texture of the dirt, trees, or buildings.
When you return home, you might find yourself more refreshed and relaxed than before. Check in with yourself to see how the process has affected you. And make plans for your next forest bathing trip.
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