A Case for Forest Bathing: Immersion in Nature and Its Benefits to Mental and Creative Health
Updated: Jul 31
I have realised that I quite enjoy being ambiguous about my milieu and have never naturally had to mention my physical location in any of my work before. But this article would be wanting without providing environmental context. I am very grateful for and fortunate to be living a five-minute walk from Central Park, and saying that the park has administered to me doses of nature I’ve needed to maintain/nurse back my mental health would be a scorching understatement.
Physical distancing or otherwise, whether during solitary strolls, occasional sprints and plenty of lounging about, surrounded only by lush greens, the way a mere twenty minutes or more in the midst of nature made me feel got me wondering about the undeniable succour “forest bathing” provides us with. Upon further reading, I stumbled upon the term shinrin-yoku. Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is the practice of spending time in the forest for better health, happiness, and a sense of calm (Li, 2018). Dr. Qing Li, the author of this Penguin Life edition elucidates in a very accessible manner what forest bathing involves, and why it can be a practice crucial to mental well-being. The author spent much of his academic career substantiating what most people intuitively know, and have always known: that being in nature does us good. Dr. Li describes forest bathing as opening our senses to nature, thus bridging the gap between us and the natural world. A pillar of Japanese culture for decades, shinrin-yoku is a way to reconnect with nature, nudging you to mindfully bathe in it- not in focusing your attention on activities like jogging or brisk walking, but by simply being.
As city dwellers, our sole respite lies in the form of parks. Whether Central Park, Bryant Park, Van Cortland, Marine Park among many others, there’s a park for everyone in New York to find solace in. As an aficionado of the arts and a writer myself, I have oftentimes pondered the role nature plays in enhancing creativity. Ecopsychologists assert that the relationship between humans and nature is definitive of human psychology, viewing all psychological and spiritual matters within the context of our membership in the natural world (Fisher, 2016). Both appreciating nature and creating art are concerned with attention, perception and imagination, wherein they both share a common language- the language of the senses. In the making of art, and our experiencing of it—whether one is observing, reading, feeling, tasting, listening to, or even empathetically ‘connecting with’—we are fine-tuning the sensual media we are all born with (Lenzo, 2001). Because art is an innately human activity, it is only natural that being in the midst of nature elevates or contributes to that “creative spark”.
“The arts, humanity’s flowers, are inextricably rooted in the wild. Our symbols, myths, sacred texts, songs, stories and poems are as inlaid with nature-based metaphors as a meadow is with wildflowers.”
(Seaman, In Our Nature: Stories of Wildness, 2002)
There is enormous value in the visual, literary, dramatic and musical arts, but there are other, gentler arts too that are equally nurturing to our spirit and deeply aligned with a nature-based psychology. Gardening and beekeeping; potting, weaving, quilting, and knitting; the culinary, healing and martial arts– all find their roots in the relationship between the human psyche and natural world. All of these art forms require sensitivity and attention, and they all work with imagination. Furthermore, creativity ensues when a multitude of factors like mood, mental health, and motivation intertwine. Ergo, it may be said that “to nature is to nurture”.
For both aesthetic purposes and ease of access, Central Park is my personal favourite, and visits to the park are truly savoured, especially now, while under the reign of coronavirus. With pockets of towering trees and open fields, accompanied by flora of all shapes, sizes, scents and colours, parks are the only place where time stands still, and everything feels “normal”. And oh, the colours! Lilacs and lavenders, fuchsia and frangipanis, cerise and cherry blossoms- there’s a shade or flower for everyone. You also get to watch fellow admirers of nature sauntering about, luxuriating in the solitude and sense of calm that may wash over us if we would only pause for a moment and allow ourselves to absorb it all. One may spend hours sitting by a pond or one of the many streams, and watch ducks, swans or geese sweeping by, simple and satisfied, or simply close their eyes to try and focus on the trill and twitter of the woodpecker, American robin, or kestrel- sometimes all at once. Immersion in nature grounds and centres us, all whilst gently reminding us that there’s more to life and truly living it, than solely ourselves.
I believe we are all innately appreciative of and grateful for nature, and writing this essay made me want to volunteer at my community garden to hone in on my green thumb. When the lines are blurred and times uncertain, comfort lies in the simple pleasures of life.
P.S. Feeling especially thankful for delightful artists like the Indian musician and urban ecologist Ditty, who’s enthralling and soothing music lulled me into writing this piece. She advocates for nature conservancy and brings awareness to the cause through her music, seamlessly incorporating nature sounds which only add to the ethereal nature of her melodies. I strongly recommend listening to Under the Sun or Garden, which are my personal favourites.
Li, Q. (2018, May 1). Forest Bathing. ‘Forest Bathing’ Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It. Retrieved from https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/
Fisher, A. (2016, September ). Ecopsychology?. What is Ecopsychology?. Retrieved from https://andyfisher.ca/blog/what-ecopsychology
Lenzo, A. (2001, ). Gatherings. Ecopsychology and Art. Retrieved from http://www.ecopsychology.org/journal/gatherings6/html/Overview/overview_ep&art.html