Someone once told me that there is a right time in life to read every book. For years, I have been feeling guilty for buying more and more books, as most of them would end up on the bookshelf, unread. Looking at my growing book collection would make me happy, but, at the same time, I’d feel bad. People visiting my house always ask: have you read all of them books? Which always leaves me with a choice: to lie, or to expose myself to admitting I am a pretty ridiculous human being. ‘I buy books as an investment’, I’d say, explaining that I will most certainly need these books at some point in life. To which response, people often smirk, with “Yeah, right” written on their face.
I feel like there is no need forcing certain books on myself, when I am not in the mood or right time/space to commit myself to reading them. And so, I have never read some of the world classics, which I am shamefully admitting. I have never been a novel reader, that’s partly the reason. Another reason would be that certain books have been talked about so much and so dully, I can’t bring myself to give them another chance. Maybe when I am old.
The idea that books speak to us differently, depending on the moment in our lives, our age, our experiences, is nothing new. Our perception of the world around us, of everything we see, read, smell, taste, is filtered through our experiences. Some things speak to us more than others, with some things we are able to identify, whereas some remain foreign and distant.
Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest Bathing was given to me by my cousin and bridesmaid, Ola, as a wedding gift, three days before our planned honeymoon in Podlasie, arguably the most peaceful corner of Poland. I could not have imagined a better read for this occasion. We chose Podlasie for the mini-honeymoon, hoping to find peace there. After a hectic few weeks spent on wedding preparations, we were seeking a quiet space; we wanted to ride bikes in the forest, listen to the frogs in the evening and admire the sky full of stars.
In Podlasie, we got all that and more. We arrived late, after 1am. The house we stayed in was situated, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere, squeezed between vast forests, fields and meadows. As we drove through the forest path, in complete darkness, surrounded by the sounds of nature, we both felt simultaneously relaxed, and anxious with anticipation. We arrived at the house, parked in front, and the complete silence fell around us, broken only by the occasional bird’s cry. There we were, in the middle of the night, with deep blue sky, heavy with stars above us, with the majestic pine trees around us. It was then I realised what was missing from my life. Something I can’t do without, and yet I accidentally managed to completely devoid myself of.
The following day, we woke up late and well rested. We rented bikes and, without a plan, without a map, without a purpose, we set out. We stopped million times on the way, as many times as we felt we needed: to sit on the meadow, to take a picture, to have a drink. We walked barefoot on the grass, touched trees, picked flowers, listened to the wind, were bitten by mosquitoes; we watched the storks on the meadows and looked for bisons in the forest. For the first time in years, we both allowed ourselves to just be: without the plan, without the purpose, without thinking what’s next.
And this book is exactly about that.
Shirnin-yoku literally means forest bathing, a practice of spending time in the forest, of reconnecting with nature. In Japan, shinrin-yoku is a popular and now institutionalised form of nature therapy. Since the 1980s the number of centres dedicated to shinrin-yoku have been growing there steadily.
The book though, is not about shinrin-yoku centres in Japan. It’s not about Japan either. Shinrin-yoku in Japanese means literally forest bath (森林 shinrin = forest, 浴 yoku = bath, bathing). To practice forest bathing is to immerse oneself in nature: from long and watchful forest walks, to spending spare time in the park, walking barefoot on the grass or even surrounding oneself with indoor plant. Phytoncides, substances emitted by the plants and trees, are responsible for the healing power of the forest, as breathing them in – according to the recent research – has the power of lowering one’s blood pressure, stimulating immune system or helping to improve one’s mood and well-being. Of course, you can’t expect that one trip to the forest will do the job. But incorporating nature into our spare time – even in the form of a prolonged walk in the park few times a week – can have a huge impact on our lives. Personally, forest is my go-to place whenever I am facing some difficulties, anxiety or stress. Being in the forest, listening to the world around me – as devoid of civilisational noise, as possible – has a wonderful soothing power: it clears my mind, and helps me look at things from a different perspective.
The book comprises of four chapters: what science has to say on the shinrin-yoku and the healing power of nature, how to practice shinrin-yoku, how to invite forest into our homes, and the future of shinrin-yoku. The author explores such topics as the basics of aromatherapy (even providing the reader with a recipe for a DIY home diffuser), home plants (explaining which plants are best at clearing the air from toxins), and the importance of our senses in experiencing nature and the world around us. The book is completed with the list of 40 most beautiful forests in the world, the POMS (Profile of Mood States) questionnaire and suggested further readings.
Even if you’re sceptical about the healing power of the forest, this book is certainly an interesting read. Its aim is to bring our attention back to nature, and to encourage us to rebuild our relationship with the natural world. And that alone, makes Shinrin-yoku. The Art and Science of Forest Bathing worthy our notice. Try it yourself.