Taking a walk in outdoors in a non-concrete setting: a park, a mountain trail, a beach, even a desert is a boon to mental and physical health.
But there is evidence that taking a walk in a forest or woods is particularly effective for reducing stress and even anxiety.
Shinrin Yoku is the Japanese term for forest bathing (spending time walking slowly in the woods), but in California, where the slow-food movement is still going somewhat strong, they’ve found a way to intensify the forest-bathing experience.
Now, small groups of people are going into the woods together, and walking just a few yards before they stop, sit, and talk about what they are experiencing.
While this slooowww forest-bathing experience is not for everyone (just walking quietly is enough for most), the approach does have a twist. One of the benefits you can borrow from this approach, even on your own, is to focus on the sensory experience you are having while walking int he woods, then pause at some point to journal or meditate on what you are feeling.
With anxiety in particular, including the anxiety that often comes as part of the process in addiction treatment, becoming more aware of how you are feeling is an essential part of recovery. By slowing down how you process external stimuli, which is another benefit of forest bathing, you are better able to listen to, or sense, your thoughts and feelings.
For many people, thoughts are just and internal blur. Feelings seem to arise spontaneously and may seem unconnected to our thoughts. But when we slow down we find that our thoughts, even those that seem wordless, often precede our feelings.
Changing our thoughts helps us change how we feel, which is the idea behind affirmations and many meditation techniques. But sitting still, often a requisite of much traditional meditation, isn’t enjoyable, or even possible, for everyone.
Walking in the woods, with the physical benefits of fresh air in a leafy environment has proven benefits: It lowers cortisol (the stress hormone), boosts the immune system and more.These physical changes affect the way we think and feel, from the outside in.
Now that spring is here (even though it’s a rather cold one), forest bathing groups are springing up in various states. You can join one, or go for it on your own.
Can’t get outside at the moment? Take an online forest walk (no, it won’t offer all the benefits, but it’s good to take a break.)
This one is just the right pace–if you don’t like the music, just watch without sound.