The practice of "forest bathing" its trendy nowadays. But what does it actually mean? Do you really need someone to teach you a "strategy" to take advantage of the benefits of being in nature?
Hope you are doing fine and your are having a decent January? 🤞✨
Can't really say that my new year has started exactly on the right foot ... 🥴
Nothing major and I can't really complain too much, being a survivor helps you remember that health is the most important thing you have.
Still, everyday life with its problems, annoyances and misfortunes, can make it difficult for you to remember that being alive is a beautiful gift anyway. When you try to achieve something and everything seems to work against you, when your job is more frustrating than usual, when your wallet gets empty well before the end of the month, when you look around and feel like you don't belong, when you lose a loved one, when you read the newspaper and feel like the world is collapsing ... There are plenty of situations that can weigh on our mental well-being and make us feel stressed and under pressure.
Stress can be a disease like any other, sometimes even more dangerous than any other. We must be careful and avoid getting to the point that it actually becomes an illness. We need to help ourselves copying, find our way to find peace and recharge our positive energies.
There are plenty of strategies out there that claim to work as a stress reliever, and forest bathing is considered one of the most effective.
The expression "forest bathing" is the English translation of the Japanese "Shinrin-Yoku" a therapeutic, relaxation process developed in Japan in the 1980 that involves being in nature, also used as a preventive healthcare measure.
Scientific researches conducted worldwide have proved in fact that wandering in the forests is a powerful way to minimize the stress hormones in our body and to boost the immune system, and that nature effectively contributes to the healing process of an ill person. Psychological studies have also proved that it helps mental acuity and boosts creativity and problem solving skills. But there is a lot you can read about it on line so I stop here.
Honestly, I came across "forest bathing" only a few days ago, while googling the term "forest" for completely different reasons! I did not know it was a "scientific relaxation process"! And I was really surprised to read that something as natural to me as breathing, like having a walk or sitting in the forest every time I feel down, stressed or just because I'm happy, is actually considered a therapeutic process and that there are institutions that exist only for the purpose to teach people to take advantage of the healing powers of the woods and of nature in general! I read out of curiosity what the process would be about, but I soon stopped, as it was immediately confirmed that yes, it was nothing more than what I do or try to do every time I spend time in a forest, either for a walk or as a photographer.
Therefore, I can say for sure that I am a passionate, skilled and well experienced forest bather and that actually, now that I think about it, the major part of this blog of mine has to do with forest bathing! This post you are reading, wasn't specifically supposed to be about it, however, my last hiking tour in the forests and the personal and photographic experience that I gained from it, have a lot to do with how you can effectively take true advantage of the time spent in the woods. As a matter of fact, as magical and powerful the healing forces of a forest might be, you won't get any benefit if you walk in it as you would do through the streets of your busy city or when you are going to work, with your heavy baggage of goals, issues and concerns.
I went out yesterday after a good 10 days of "desk work only". Not only I really needed to take some pictures for my regular publications, but I was also starting feeling the bad effects of being seated inside for a long time. Back pain, bowel issues, the boredom assailing me, lack of focus, bad thoughts, and the list goes on and on .... It was definitely time to get outside!
My jeep is still not working to my great despair, if you are a regular reader of my blog you know about the issue. I won't enter into details of this miserable, unfortunate and long standing situation. I'll just say that the last mechanic intervention didn't prove to solve the issue and that once again, this is a major stress of mine, being unable to reach the destinations I need to get to to take pictures, which is what by definition a landscape photographer should do 🥴
Anyway, the night before, I thought about a forest I have wanted to visit for a long time that, according to Google map, I could hopefully reach with my city car by stopping to a big parking not too far from it.
I drove a long way to get there, just to realize that nope, there was no way I could get to that forest as the map suggested and by the time I found that out it was already 13:00. Half a day already gone!
So, I had to think to the nearest, reachable destination, to not waist the day and the petrol, and I eventually headed for a forest that I knew well, to be on the safe side.
When I got there, I was really in a bad mental state, much stressed and worried. My only preoccupation was to find something worth photographing so that I could have some material for my publications. It was already a dark winter day in itself and the light was quickly dying. Didn't have much time. At the same time I was a bit bored by having to walk in a forest that I knew well, I was lacking that sense of excitement that comes with visiting an unknown place and the surprises it can offer. The forest was uphill as many Swedish forests are, and I could feel the fatigue of my every step.
So, in a way, I was in the same situation you would be when rushing on a busy street in the city on an ordinary winter work day, with your mind full of all the daily concerns ...
Being in that state, not only I wasn't finding anything worth to be photographed, but surely I wasn't feeling any healing effect from my walk in the forest, on the contrary, my stress levels were skyrocketing!
At some point, being the forest bather that I actually am, helped me. I knew I had to get rid of my bad mental state if I wanted to get something from that day and somehow I knew how to do it. So, I hurried to reach the shore of a little lake that lied just below the hilly forest path, which is one of my favorite spot of that woodland.
I descended the steep side of the forest till I reached the narrow shore of the lake, made myself space between the naked branches of the winter trees and I looked for a rock I could sit on.
I sat there for a long while, simply resting and looking to the dark waters flowing in front of me.The wind was blowing hard and the ice in the lake was making spooky sounds, reminding me that I was in the wilderness. I stretched my arms and my back and I started breathing deeply and slowly, focusing all my attention on the breathing process, following the air that was exiting and entering my body, in and out, in and out, always looking at the lake in front of me, listening to the sound of the flowing water, inhaling the smells of the forest until eventually my mind stopped thinking, lulled by the motion of the ripples, enchanted by the shapes of the waves and lost in the textures of the melting ice flowing in the water.
Such a blessed feeling, like being there and not being there at the same time, 10 minutes of super relax from which I woke up physically and mentally renewed.
In fact, I had felt so comfortable in that kind of a trance/meditation status, that I think I only woke up because I spotted something I wanted to photograph! Finally!
There was a little piece of smooth and shiny ice in the shape of a little mountain floating on the water and resisting the pull of the currents. A piece of wood was clinging on to it as to avoid going with the flow. That little ice mountain lost in the dark waters looked tiny and strong at the same time and it had something extremely beautiful to my eyes!
I stood by the river of the lake a little longer to take a few more pictures ....
I couldn't stay too long though, all my energies were back, my enthusiasm too, and I wanted to return uphill for a last visit to the forest before the light would go down for good. I was feeling inspired again and had no rush at all to return home! The photographic journey had just started. Actually, the best picture and the best experience I had lived that day were still to come.
But it would require too much of your time and your attention if I continued the story in this post. I'll spare the rest for the second episode of this adventure... so, stay tuned!
The one I just described is my forest bathing process, my personal way to immerse myself in nature and to benefit from its soothing and healing effects. It involves walking a lot and finding a place I feel safe and comfortable in, a place that for some reason I particularly like, and to return to that place every time I feel mentally or physically down. Being a nature photographer I was able to locate many happy places within the locations I have visited over time and return to.
But you don't have to be a nature photographer and you don't need a wild forest to enjoy the stress relief benefits of being in nature. Just find your nearest place in nature. Set aside some time and dedicate one day to look for it and start exploring it. It can be a little park in the city you are living. I actually had my first "forest bathing" experience in London, in a park near home. I visited it after I had been diagnosed with a very bad disease, I was scared and worried and I wanted to be alone. I liked that place as soon as I entered it, I felt safe and comfortable in it and I kept on returning to it every time I needed to relax and to rest my mind.
When you are in nature, switch your phone off please!
Take a walk or sit on the grass if you prefer, and just be there, look, listen, smell, feel, focus on what is around you. You'll be surprised to notice how many creatures exists nearby you!
Breathe, with long, deep breath that will tell your brain that you are safe and you can relax.
Just be in nature, with all your senses, let it enter you, with its colors, sounds, smell and textures. You'll soon lose yourself in it.
Stay, for as long as you feel comfortable. Dun't rush.
Sooner or later, you will experience it. You'll get that blessed feeling of total peace, when your mind is taken away from all your worries, when your body has reached total relaxation of its muscles and its nerves. You'll experience that feeling of being there and not being there.
And when you'll be back in your car, in the busy streets of the city or at home, you'll feel a renewed energy that will accompany you for a while, and you'll now that once that nice feeling is gone, you'll be able to live that experience again every time you'll need it.
Being in nature and enjoy its benefits, is not a scientific process, or a strategy, nothing requiring particular skills or training, nothing that you can't do by yourself and teach to yourself.
It's as simple as stepping into a natural environment and finding a way to enjoy it.
It's you reconnecting with nature, as you are nature yourself.
And nope, although the benefits of it are immense, it's not the cure for every disease, as many organizations claim.
I am sure you have already experienced yourself at least once the good effects that being in nature can have of you, maybe you've been on the mountains, or you have just taken a walk in a park. If you want these effects to last longer and really have an impact on your way to approach life, just make nature part of your routine, find your happy place you can return to. You don't need any organization, it costs nothing and it won't disappoint you!
I'll be soon back with the second episode of my hiking adventure and with my best picture of that day. A picture I am particularly fond about as it is the result of a total connection with the nature of that place and beyond.
Till next time, take good good care of you!
Love, Simona 🤍🌲🤍