Forest Walking Or Forest Bathing, What Is The Difference?

Forest bathing, or Shinrin Yoku, is catching on as a therapy to cope with everyday stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain

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Occasional outdoor immersion allows all your senses to work for you Christyl Rivers

But what exactly is forest bathing, and how is it different than just taking a walk outdoors? In Japan, parks are set aside specifically for the public good and advantages of Shinrin Yoku, which translated literally is “Forest Bath.”

When you participate in forest bathing, you immerse yourself in slow time and focus. When you take a walk, it can mean any number of things

Forest bathing is not offered the same consideration in this part of the world as it is in the East, as of yet. It’s usefulness to public health in the United States, and elsewhere, is still being discovered, although it is catching on. We don’t have such green spaces set aside as they do in Japan.

However, in the United States, given its immense size, National Parks, and their wonders, offer places where public recreation abounds. In addition, although we don’t have settings specific for forest bathing, we also have city, state, and private parks, to say nothing of available public and private plots in abundance, which are quite suitable for short walks, longer hikes, and deeper “baths” A person determined to take advantage of forest bathing — or just walking — available can do so, just by finding a nearby setting and taking time to visit regularly.

The primary difference between forest walking, or hiking, and forest bathing is the goal. The goal of taking a walk, or hike, is often to emerge at a lake, a viewpoint, a mountain top, or some other landmark. The goal of forest bathing is to be in the forest in the present moment with no extraneous goal, although reaching a vista is not discouraged.

Although some of you may be quite disappointed, you don’t take off your clothes for forest bathing,( or for most walking, for that matter). The bathing aspect refers to immersion, such as when one is fully immersed in a tub of water. Perhaps if you are fortunate enough to have access to completely private and protected outdoor areas, you may have the added benefit of going au naturel, but no one I have heard of has been able to indulge widely in extra sensory sensations.

Because the experience of forest bathing is about immersion, senses are to be opened. Your sense of vision should take in color, texture, sizes, shapes, and contrasts. You should notice everything in your visual field, sky, clouds, trees, trail, tiny berries, giant mountains, and so on.

Yet, the visual sense is just one of many. When forest bathing you slow down and open up. You take time to smell bark and leaves, taste the air, touch the soil and flower petals. Listen carefully for sounds near and far.

Do not be limited to your five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Open all of your senses, including sense of gravity, warmth and coolness, balance, perceptions internal and external, senses of emotion, thirst, or lack of it, and so on.

Your sense of time is also to be critically engaged. Many people practice mindfulness when forest bathing (and some do when walking), but in forest bathing particularly, the idea is to stay present with both the moment and your senses. Your mind may wander with your senses, but that is all part of the immersion. Go everywhere your senses go, just make a minimal effort to stay with a sensation, say the scent of a minty leaf, for enough time to let it sink into your mind and body.

When you take a walk your mind can be distant and even working on a work related task that is abstract, or remote. Many people take walks to solve problems and contemplate their inner thoughts. There is nothing wrong with this, it is all about preference. But many practitioners who have done both see a benefit in allowing in just the present senses and the present moment. They often find answers and solutions to unrelated tasks after the walk is complete.

Taking a walk is good for you, and has been prescribed for centuries by the wise, the poets, and the mystics, but forest bathing is taking more of an inventory than taking a walk.

The researched outcomes for outdoor therapies are to decrease stress, lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate, elevate mood, rejuvenate energy, and reconnect to the living world. Of course, many people report weight loss, and overall physical well-being as well. Note that these are not the same goals as outlined above for your outdoor time, which is always to open senses and be in the present moment.

It is better to listen to nature’s call to reconnect than to get all stressed out about performance goals and instant outcomes. We are conditioned to expect instant answers in pills and products, but outdoor therapy works differently.

Ecopsychologists helping people cope with the increasing uncertainty and anxiety of the modern world prescribe both hiking, walking, and forest bathing. It depends entirely upon what a person is most attracted to, their goals, their physical limitations, and sometimes their cultural attachments.

These days there is an entire range of outdoor options. From a short stroll at lunch to clear your head, to a week long wilderness trek to clear your life, the important thing is to remember your belonging to nature. As a physical being with senses that you need to appreciate and nourish, you need to feel, think, and learn from the lessons of slower pace and fuller experience. This is what a wider, richer, and full sensate world offers.

Regular family walks, as well as forest bathing, is also highly recommended for parents, and their children, who have behavioral, learning, or spectrum disorder challenges. People dealing with illness or chronic pain also report benefits.

Another way to say this is that nature, and the forest especially, is good for human beings. We evolved outdoors and our species crucially needs to reconnect to our origins, both as individuals with senses, and as a civilization in need of defending all that sustains ourselves.

Written by

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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