Conservation & Sustainability

Forest Bathing in the land of Muir

Forest Bathing

Last year I was visiting my friend in San Francisco. It’s an annual ritual. I go to the US every year where my siblings live, to escape the sweltering heat of Delhi. But this time, the agenda was different. I had chanced upon a quote by John Muir- ‘In every walk with Nature one receives more than he seeks’. I started to look up this visionary who had summed up a quest of a lifetime in one guileless yet profound statement.


The vacation itinerary was set then. We would go to see the Muir Woods National Monument (yes, it’s a national monument- the jungle) in SFO and the Redwood National Park in Eureka and spend some time walking. No mindless mall-hopping would allure me away from the magnificent outdoors.

And this wasn’t going to be a simple walk.  We were going for Forest Bathing- a term that’s becoming popular as more and more people realize that being in nature can bring a bounty of benefits. The Japanese call it Shinrin Yoku, which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’. Tomes have already been written why even a little time in a forest can result in reduced stress, strong immunity, improved mood, good quality of sleep, increased energy level, etc.

The fundamental thought is quite straightforward actually- we humans have been living in nature for millennia, and that is our home- our ‘factory setting’ so to speak. When we go back to our home, we feel replenished, rejuvenated and a sense of belongingness. How do we do it? We awaken our senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste and through the bridge of heightened senses cross over into a liminal space, the sensory threshold.

Forest bathing
Forest bathing

And we do all this with a sense of awe and wonder. Not that you need to evoke these emotions under the canopy of redwoods. When you stand under a tree over 300 feet tall ( that is twice the height of Statue of Liberty), and more than 2000 years old, you appreciate your place in the web of inter-being. Did Lord Buddha too breathe the phytoncides (antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees) in the air released by these giant sequoias and redwoods!!

As we touched and felt the moist barks, linked our arms in an effort to hug the massive girths, climbed the fallen yet proud trunks and heard the susurrus of ferns on the forest floor…we understood what Muir meant when he said:

‘And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.’

6 thoughts on “Forest Bathing in the land of Muir

  1. Nicely written … amongst the nature when you are all your sensory organs gets activated … you feel the texture … you get lost in vivid colors painted in the nature’s canvas …. the smell ….. you are lucky one to pursue it

  2. Excelente! Am aware in a general way on the benefits of enhanced nature interaction, but this very well written article almost makes me want to jump out of bed right away (it’s 11:15 pm) and go for a walk in the woods.

  3. We all have been to forest many times but without realizing there was a deeper science of forest bathing that existed which had a profound impact on our bodies. Being a new concept to me, I have a plenty of questions. How long do you have to be there in the forest to start experiencing the difference? Are there scientific studies on its effect on our bodies ? (I’m sure Japanese have compelling reasons for practicing something like this) Do you bring a piece of forest in you when you come back ? How often do you need to go back? What kind of forest has to be visited ? (considering that most of our forests are man-made or mono-cultured forest); Can forest bathing be practiced in parks or in your gardens?; Is aromatherapy linked to forest bathing ? Does it have any connection with spirituality and mysticism ? If yes, how ?, etc, etc. One can see how new technologies that we use have distanced us from nature leading to an alarming levels of nature-deficit in our lives. The concept sounds absolutely thrilling till I really experience it.

    1. We all have been to forest many times but without realizing there was a deeper science of forest bathing that existed which had a profound impact on our bodies. Being a new concept to me, I have a plenty of questions. How long do you have to be there in the forest to start experiencing the difference?

      A 2.30 hour guided walk can have an effect for up to a week. Studies suggest that a 20 minute sit-spot ( sitting and observing in a nature spot of your choice) every day can have tremendous benefit.

      Are there scientific studies on its effect on our bodies ? (I’m sure Japanese have compelling reasons for practicing something like this)

      Yes, the Japanese have done extensive research. In fact, they have around 60 trails in Japan designated for FT. They take vital measurements before and after the walk. In Japan, only medical practitioners guide such walks.

      Do you bring a piece of forest in you when you come back ?

      Yes, you do. The walk can be very impactful yet subtle. The idea is to use all your senses with awareness, which we have forgotten to do, especially when we are inured within four walls.

      How often do you need to go back?

      There is nothing mandatory but as often as you can..being in nature can never harm you.

      What kind of forest has to be visited ? (considering that most of our forests are man-made or mono-cultured forest);

      Preferably with a canopy, a water body.. both have calming effect.

      Can forest bathing be practiced in parks or in your gardens?;

      Yes. The idea is to reconnect with nature. If a forest is not available, we must make do with what is around us.

      Is aromatherapy linked to forest bathing ?

      We do focus on the sense of smell a lot. But aromatherapy per se is not practised.

      Does it have any connection with spirituality and mysticism ? If yes, how ?

      Yes We believe that we are a part of the web of interbeing. Which means we are all connected. Humans have lived in nature for millennia. It was home, so when you reconnect it’s almost like coming back home. We practise meditation too, but don’t go deep into it.

      One can see how new technologies that we use have distanced us from nature leading to an alarming levels of nature-deficit in our lives. The concept sounds absolutely thrilling till I really experience it.

      Yes, we are mostly tree-blind and there is actually a term called Nature deficit disorder. When we go back to nature, we rewire ourselves and reap multiple health benefits.

      Next time I go for the FT walk, do join me.

  4. Your write up made me want to go on a hike to the forest right away.
    I live in a very green subdivision in Atlanta, and when I take my dog for a walk in the evening, it feels wonderful to breathe in the fresh air.
    Incidentally, I had named my dog Forrest (now 2 yrs old).

  5. Minni,
    Conducted many forest walks in Sibley forest in Atlanta this summer. Were you there?
    And a dog called Forrest, I am going to steal this idea the day I have a pet! Hope to see you some day on a walk.

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