“Shinrin-yoku”, or forest bathing, has its roots in Japan but you can now experience this meditative nature therapy at home in Malaysia
If there were any personal takeaways from the months-long isolation spent at home, it’s how much being stripped of normalcy as we knew it makes one ache for the great outdoors. Being in nature, after all, has this inexplicable restorative and grounding effect that’s — quite literally — a breath of fresh in a time of uncertainty.
Nowhere is this sentiment of nature’s healing ability more apparent than the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku. Loosely translated to “forest bathing” (shinrin means “forest”, while yoku means “bath”), shinrin-yoku is the act of taking in the forest through all your five senses. The trend originated in Japan in the 1980s, as part of a state initiative to encourage locals to reconnect with nature, in the face of tech-burnout.
Not quite a hike, forest bathing is about being present in nature and consciously connecting with its sights, smells and sounds, whether that’s appreciating the dewy smell of leaves, the chorus of birds or the way sunlight percolates through the foliage. In Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, author and researcher Dr. Qing Wu reveals that forest bathing is as simple as walking about in any natural environment.
His tips: pick a spot in a nearby urban park or nature reserve. Then, begin wandering slowly and aimlessly, letting your senses guide you. If you prefer, you can practice yoga or meditate too. To truly be present, make sure to leave your devices behind.
Forest bathing in Penang’s ancient rainforest
For a more structured experience, there are also guided forest bathing sessions you can opt for. From Costa Rica to New Zealand, resorts and travel tours have picked up on this eco-therapy trend. Closer to home however, The Habitat Penang Hill has introduced a new forest therapy programme. This two-and-a-half-hour session takes you through a slow walk along a trail through its lush, ancient rainforest, incorporating a mix of breathing exercises, meditation, aromatherapy, and tea tasting.
According to The Habitat, forest bathing can help with improving immunity and quality of sleep, reducing anxiety and blood pressure, as well as cancer prevention, among others — some of which are backed by research and studies conducted on the subject.
Whether all the untold health benefits of forest bathing are true, that depends. However, for those of us living in a concrete jungle, being able to escape into and bask in the outdoors — even if for a while — does sound appealing. Give it a go, the next time you’re feeling a little peaky from being stuck in the city for too long.
The Forest Bathing experience at The Habitat Penang Hill is available from Fridays to Sundays at 10 am. Visit their official website to find out more.