Tree-hugging has a new meaning. People who live in crazed, time-starved cities are seeking out patches of nature for what is called forest-bathing. It’s essentially just quiet time amid the sounds, sights and smells of unadulterated nature. The idea is to leave all your screens behind, find a spot where you can’t hear the traffic or see a manmade structure, and just sit on the earth and empty your mind.
It’s a Japanese concept; they call it shinrin-yoku, and as it catches in metros around the world, healing forest walks are being conducted across Indian cities, from Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune to Chandigarh, Panaji and Panchgani.
“It stems from the idea that we humans have an innate longing to be surrounded by trees, which is why we immediately feel an overwhelming sense of warmth and calm when in a forest,” says Navneesh Makkad, a naturalist who organises healing forest walks in Pune and Panchgani.
The practice has been part of the national public health programme in Japan since 1982, when the government began to promote it as therapy.
What do you do
There are no set rules to how one goes about forest-bathing, but it typically involves an hour in a forest, walking or sitting or both. The pace should be slow; there should be no objectives — no bird-watching with binoculars or trekking to a lookout point.
“The forest air feels fresher and revitalising because of the presence of essential oils in wood, which are emitted by trees,” says Makkad.
There are three major values of shinrin-yoku that underline every meet. One is to focus the senses, each one individually. The second is to slow down, be silent. And the third is to end the walk with sharing, where you open up about your experience with your fellow forest-bathers.
Where do you do it
Last year, Nitin Das, a filmmaker from Gurugram, released a 50-minute documentary called Healing Forests of India, on the concept of forest bathing, and the best places to do it in the country. Through the course of the film, he speaks to forest-bathers, psychologists, farmers and doctors about its effects.
“We do not look at this as a single-person-led module. The forest is the healer and the forest-bathers are people who enter it for its stress-relief and healing benefits,” says Das.
In addition to shinrin-yoku, he adds, there is the practice of shinrin ryo ho, which is guided counselling in the woods, with an expert, a practice that is gaining traction in the West.
“For people struggling with depression and anxiety, shinrin ryo ho can help,” he says.
From student to teacher
Dipika Sharma, 36, a digital marketing manager from Noida, was introduced to forest-bathing two years ago. She went on to train with the European Forest Therapy Training Institute in Ireland to become a shinrin yoku guide, and was certified in August. She now conducts healing forest walks in and around Delhi. “With no real forests around, I started looking for places with enough trees, shade and textures like grass and flowers to activate different senses,” she says. Her first pick was Lodhi Gardens. “I wish we had a spot with natural flowing water to add to the experience, but in crowded metros one doesn’t have much choice.”