How a Simple Japanese Practice Can Improve Our Health and Daily Life
In winter getting outside remains important to mental and physical health. Here are ways to integrate the benefits of the outdoors into daily life.
The intensity of today’s reality has left many Americans feeling disconnected, discouraged, and despondent. The extreme winter weather that hit much of the U.S. this month marks another type of disruption—one that will push many people to stay inside. As heavy snowfall and extreme cold may force us to modify our behavior, getting outdoors remains an important way to improve our health and daily life.
While the risk of contracting COVID-19 is lower in open air environments, that’s just one of the benefits of heading outside. Research has shown that being in nature enhances positive emotions and helps us externalize our internal thoughts so we can look at them from another perspective.
A 2016 study confirmed, “Time in nature can lead to health benefits” that are, “immediate, such as decreased blood pressure, decreased stress levels, enhanced immune system functioning, and restored attention, or transpire over time, such as weight loss, decreased depression, and overall wellness. ”
Sounds good, right?
Now, let’s get to shinrin-yoku.
Developed in Japan in the 1980’s, shinrin-yoku literally means “forest bathing” and involves neither washing nor undressing. Used as a preventative approach to health in the East, shinrin-yoku refers to the practice of taking in the forest through your five senses. To do this, you leave behind mental and physical distractions, then walk aimlessly beneath a tree canopy, noticing and connecting with the natural world around you.
While “forest bathing” does require a sylvan setting, its more general field of nature therapy offers lots of forest-free ways to incorporate the outdoors into our personal wellness.
Here are some options:
1. Choose or design a walking meditation that helps you connect to your environment. (I’m sharing the one I use.)
Once outside, clear your mind with a few deep breaths and tune in to your senses. What do you see and hear? How does the ground feel under your feet? Breathing through your nose, how does the air around you smell? Breathing through your mouth, what do you taste? Try to stay in this clear minded state of being, rather than thinking or doing. As you prepare to return inside, reflect on how you’re feeling. Which emotions do you want to keep with you for the rest of the day?
2. Make it actionable.
As you plan your schedules or to-do lists, include time to nourish with nature. Plan ahead by picking a favorite place or choosing a new spot to explore.
3. Break for impromptu walks.
Before transitioning to a new task, take some time to get outside. Even if it’s just a short stroll around the block, building transition time into your schedule gives your body and mind a chance to recharge.
4. Schedule some socially distant socializing.
Arrange a walk with a friend, host a bonfire, or plan a picnic.
5. Think out of the box for out of the office.
Challenge your routine meeting styles and locations. Which conversations or tasks can you take outside? What other inside locations offer a more nature-filled setting?
6. Bring the outdoors indoors.
Return to your workspace after a visit with nature. How does your inside space incorporate the natural world? What small changes could you make to reflect more of what you enjoy about the outdoors? Some considerations: lighting, plants, art, furniture, water, natural scents, ambient sound.
7. Dress for de-stress.
Simply your inside-to-outside transition by dressing in comfortable clothing and shoes that can double as, or easily become, outdoor wear.
8. Smell the roses (literally and figuratively).
The mindful practice of noticing can bring a sense of calm and appreciation at any time and any place. Simply pause, take a few intentional breaths, and absorb what’s around you.
This is a time to relish simple pleasures—especially when they can improve our health and daily life. I hope this helps you do that.