Shinrin-yoku: forest bathing in Stanmer Great Wood
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
The covid-19 pandemic has provoked much anxiety and stress for us all. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoko provides a way of reducing stress and anxiety through mindful walking in nature.
Shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing'), is "taking in" the atmosphere of a wood/forest as part of a leisurely walk. Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan the 1980s.
Japanese and South Korean researchers have found that forest bathing creates a calming neuro-psychological effect, reducing stress, boosting the the immune system, and enhancing well-being
This is how the Grow Wild Blog (funded by the Community Fund and The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew) describes Shinrin-yoku
Step 1 – leave behind your phone, camera or any other distractions, so that you can be fully present in the experience. Step 2 – Leave behind your goals and expectations. Wander aimlessly, allowing your body to take you wherever it wants. Step 3 – Pause from time to time, to look more closely at a leaf or notice the sensation of the path beneath your feet. Step 4 – Find a comfy spot to take a seat and listen to the sounds around you. See how the behaviour of the birds and other animals changes when they become used to your presence. Step 5 – If you go with others, make an agreement to resist talking until the end of the walk, when you could gather to share your experiences." I find a camera assists me to be fully present in step 3; as the framing of shots requires being still and mindful, with full attention on one thing at a time, which may not be always a leaf; it may be a branch, a root, some fungi, some lichen, or anything that particularly attracts my attention.
When I am observing something with a camera, I take a long time considering how to frame the object of my contemplation; considering different angles, and with different degrees of zoom, and the what aperture (depth of field), to find the "essence" of the thing I am focussing upon.
But that "essence" is, I believe, subjective, not universal. To paraphrase Satre's"existence proceeds essence", my existence in a particular place at a particular time produces the personal "essence" of what I see; it is an essence that exits in my lifeworld; the “surrounding world” or “environment” [which] Husserl ... characterizes [as] the environment as a world of entities that are “meaningful” to us in that they exercise “motivating” force on us and present themselves to us under egocentric aspects." Beyer, Christian (2020)
I believe the personal interaction with the natural world around us; the essences that we discover and rediscover, that brings wellbeing; I do not believe the Platonic view that"the world that appears to our senses is in some way defective and filled with error, [and that] there is a more real and perfect realm, populated by entities ... that are eternal, changeless, and in some sense paradigmatic for the structure and character of the world presented to our senses" Kraut, Richard (2012)
I believe that focussing on specific natural objects in specific times and specific places leads to a stillness; a calming of the mind the produces personal meaning, a grasping of a personal "essence" of the moment and place, whatever that essence means for you; and that is not filled with error, but is filled with beauty. This produces well-being. Each time the same landscape is visited it is different, new meanings can be experienced, and the experience can be joyous.
My walk: 2.30-3.30 Thursday, 10/12/20, Grid reference: TQ33209: Google Map location
Are the well-being effects of forest bathing dependent on being in a wood/forest, or can this effect be engendered virtually? Could looking at the pictures (digitaly, online) above bring well-being to you?
This question is explored by Natalie Markwell and Thomas Edward Gladwin (2020) in their research article Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing) Reduces Stress and Increases People's Positive Affect and Well-Being in Comparison with Its Digital Counterpart, Ecopsychology 202012:4, 247-256,
This is what they discovered:
Separation from nature may contribute to stress and reduced well-being. Shinrin-yoku may be an effective and cost-effective method to improve mental health by immersion in forests/woodlands. T
his study experimentally tested the effect of Shinrin-yoku on stress, affect, and well-being and sought to gain further insight into the experience of participating in Shinrin-yoku. A mixed methods experimental design was used to conduct the study.
A total of 22 participants, stratified by hand, were assigned to one of two conditions: the actual nature (Shinrin-yoku) condition and the digital nature (digital Shinrin-yoku) condition. Scales were used to measure four aspects of mental health: stress, positive affect, negative affect, and well-being.
Actual Shinrin-yoku was found to increase positive affect and well-being significantly more than the digital Shinrin-yoku condition. This significant difference for positive affect between the two conditions remained at the 1-month follow-up. A number of themes were identified characterizing similarities and differences between the Shinrin-yoku and digital Shirin-yoku conditions. Positive emotions were experienced in both conditions, but although Shinrin-yoku was associated with mental refreshment, the digital Shinrin-yoku condition was associated with loss of concentration."
I think these findings are congruent with a philosophical consideration of the nature of existence; being in the world, the experiencing of your lifeworld, is always likely to be more personally meaningful than viewing someone else's record of their experiences. That is not to say that viewing other people's photographs is not often meaningful and pleasurable; but viewing photographic representation of your own experiences is always going to be more meaningful, and thus more wellbeing enhancing. This is why I enjoy my own photographs, even when my photographs are not that good photographically; they are reminders of experiences, not works of art.
I took the colour photographs for this blog with a Nikon COOLPIX P950 digital bridge camera (with an integral 83x optical zoom Lens - 24mm-2000mm). I took the monochrome photographs (scanned) with a Fuji Instax mini 70 instant camera, with Fujifilm monochrome instant film.