Last month, shortly after green leaves appeared on the trees and colourful flowers buds began to blossom, the first warm day of spring arrived and it beckoned me to hit the trails for a hike. Initially, I called on a friend to see if she wanted to join me, but she was unavailable. Disappointed at first, I decided a hike in the forest alone would be what I really needed. I laced up my hiking shoes, hopped in my car and took a quick drive to my favourite hiking spot: Komoka Provincial Park.
I have to admit, when I first entered the forest I was angry and hurt, but I was wise enough to know the trees would set me straight. For the last several months, I’ve been challenged with all that is involved in having a hospitalized mentally ill mother. As much as I wanted to slow down, a brisk power walk was the only way I could move. As my feet pounded quickly against the earth, my eyes were fixed upon the path before them trying to avoid my toes from being snagged on the root of a tree or crashed into a protruding rock– Lord knows I didn’t need any more obstructions on my path. This military march lasted less than a minute. That’s how long it took before the call of beauty caught my attention: a large patch of white trillium flowers swaying in the breeze. Had I kept on my war path, I would have missed them completely. I stopped in my tracks, knelt down and took a minute to just admire their beauty…and secretly wished I could pick one! These delicate wild flowers slowed me down when I needed it most and once again proved that ruminating over things that upset me can and will diminish my ability to see all of the good I am always surrounded by. The moment I allowed myself up to appreciate where I was, the emotionally charged thoughts swirling in my head subsided. Then again, I knew that would happen. That’s why I went there in the first place.
The Japanese have a special name for purposely seeking the forest as a refuge. They call it Shinrin-yoku, which translates into “forest bathing”. Don’t let the word “bathing” make you feel uneasy; clothing stays on, folks! Shirin-yoku is simply taking a mindful walk in a natural environment. No electronics, no cameras, no talking. Just taking your time to use your senses to draw in the unadulterated sights, sounds, smells and textures that Mother Nature benevolently provides. It also involves taking moments to sit and be still while taking it all in.
My account of how it transformed my mood isn’t just a romanticized experience either. There is plenty of research to support the ways in which the forest puts you in a state of harmony. One Canadian study has shown frequent visits to the forest improve cognition because it gives our brains a break from the everyday bombardment of incessant attention grabbers found in our workplace and man made living environments. In other words, it allows us to be in the present, harmonious moment which is exactly what I felt on my hike.
Everyone can use a change of scenery every once in a while and everyone can use a little stress relief. Now that the nice weather is here, I invite you to have your own Shinrin-yoku experience. It would be a great addition to your self-care tool kit.