Forest Bathing- Reconnect with Nature

In the fast-paced city life, how many hours do you usually spend on the phone and computer everyday and get the brain fully engaged in study and work? We all know that getting into nature would feel more relaxed. But have you ever experienced forest bathing, for a real connection with nature?

In Japanese, it is called shinrin-yoku, Shinrin means forest, and yoku means bath. It was originated in Japan in the 1980s as a response to the growing concern about the health effects of an increasingly urbanized and technology-driven society. Studies have shown that forest bathing would benefit our wellbeing by lowering the stress level, stabilizing blood pressure, reducing stress hormones levels, strengthening immune system and improving mood and sleep quality. 

For many of us, when we get into nature, we may still be engaged with the phone and cameras, with minds thinking about something else. Forest bathing is about inviting our body as the guide. Let our five senses connect with nature, like listening to the sound of birds, smelling the scent of flowers/forest, feeling the breezes, touching the trees/leaves/soil, zooming in or out for what interest us the most among the amazing creations on Earth. During the walk, we are invited to open the heart, tap into curiously and sense of wonder.

Forest bathing is about immersing ourselves in the wood and feel the vibrancy of nature. The experience is so unique that even in the same nature area, everyone would take their own pace and feel differently. Someone may lie on the ground, others may feel the texture of tree leaves or prefer to sit down and listen to the running water of a stream. There is no answer for what will be experienced. Forest bathing is a mindful practice of connection to the natural environment through the sensations. There is a belief that nature has the power to heal and restore balance in our lives.

A study conducted by Dr. Qing Li, found that spending time in a forest increased the number and activity of natural killer (NK) cells which play a crucial role in our body’s defense against viruses and cancer. The increase in NK cells was attributed to the inhalation of phytoncides, the natural chemicals emitted by trees and plants to protect themselves from insects and decay.

In April, a group of HKUST students and staff have experienced our first forest bathing on campus, from the University Centre to the Chinese Garden near the senior staff quarter. Our forest bathing guide Amanda showed us the way to connect with nature. She is the first Asia-based trainer of the US Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Surviving cancer allowed her to experience the transformative power of living in alignment with the essence of our inner and outer nature.  She made different invitations to us, and one was to find our most comfortable spot and position in an area covered by beautiful candlenut trees. Then opened up the dialogue to share about our feelings and listen to the others.

The group then continued the mindful walk into the serene Chinese Garden. We picked leaves and flowers on the soil that interested us the most. While closing our eyes, we sat in circle and passed the piece we picked to the person next to us and tried to feel it through our sensations. We ended the peaceful session with a tea ceremony, to show our gratitude to nature for the resources it provides, and we each randomly picked a leaf written with a message on well-being. By embracing the forest bathing, we can awaken our senses, and find balance and healing in the natural world, even in the midst of our urbanized lives.

What to read next