We live in a globalised world. 55% of the world’s population lives in a city - that’s a mere 4.2 billion city dwelling individuals. Some say that we aren’t meant to be surrounded by tarmac, concrete and pollution, and I sympathise with that view. With the hustle and bustle of fast-paced city life, it is easy to forget to be mindful. How, you may ask, am I meant to find the time - or even more importantly, the space - to be mindful in this concrete jungle?
One answer to this question would be to practice the Japanese art of forest bathing, or more specifically - Shinrin'yoku or 森林浴. Shinrin-Yoku is a form of ecotherapy that first emerged in Japan in the 1980’s. Neuroimaging has indicated that there are some physiological benefits to forest bathing. The idea behind it, that spending time in nature is good for you, is not new. Many cultures have long recognised how important connecting to the natural world is, and today, as we are becoming more distant from it, that connection is more important than ever.
In an age where we spend more time inside looking at a screen than we do outside, making sure that we get a dose of the beauty of the real world is important. The simplicity of a natural landscape is a long distance from the sensory onslaught of the complexity of living in a city. In saying this, which one would you like to spend the most time in?
It is proven that walking in nature has a variety of physical health benefits, but the true essence of Shinrin-Yoku is in the effect it has on your mental health. Reducing stress, calming your nerves, lowering pulse rate and blood pressure, it almost sounds too good to be true! On top of this, bathing in nature lifts your mood and trying to spot various animals and plants while out in nature can help with mindfulness. It doesn’t have to be in a forest, however. You can practice Shinrin-Yoku anywhere that is natural.
Living in the centre of a city, you might not have access to a large forest. Instead, go to a river or a park and enjoy soaking in the nature that can be found in that. The National Trust recommends that an individual should forest bathe for a minimum of two hours to feel the benefits associated with it. They do, however, also state that even 10 minutes can help you feel refreshed. In essence, you only need to stay as long as is comfortable.
Another nature-based form of improving mental health is called ‘Grounding’. According to those that practice grounding, touching the earth and removing shoes helps elevate mood and make the mind clearer. Whilst this is less scientifically based, and possibly a bit more bohemian, it is something that I have personally done. Whether or not it is genuinely the connection to the earth that is improving mental health, one thing is for sure - it is freeing.
A similar feeling to feeling the sand between your toes, taking off your shoes and connecting to the earth feels as though you are one with it. I wouldn’t recommend leaving your shoes at home when going for a 20km hike. This could cause more problems that it might solve. But I would recommend standing in one spot with your bare feet and seeing how it affects your mental health.
As you stand there, close your eyes. Listen to what you can hear. If you are in a forest, maybe you can hear birds and the whooshing of trees. If you are by the sea, maybe you can hear the waves lapping against the shore. Ask yourself, what does the earth beneath your feet feel like? Wherever you are, there is an opportunity to connect with the world around you. It could be that it is not for you at all, and this is fine - but for some - I think both Shrinrin-Yoku and grounding could be beneficial.