Podcast Transcript | Shinrin Yoku: Japanese Forest Bathing

[00:00:00]

[Yasmin Shahmir]

[00:00:23] Hello and welcome to Rules and Ritual. This is a Trippin podcast exploring the spiritual practices, lifestyles and ceremonies that connect cultures across the world. I'm Yasmin Shamir and I'm a co-founder of the travel and culture platform Trippin. And I'm going to be your host throughout the series.

[Robyn Landau] And I'm Robyn Landau. My work explores the neuroscience of well-being. So I'm going to be taking us a bit deeper into the science of what's going on in our brains and bodies when we're experiencing these rituals.

[Yasmin Shahmir] And together, alongside some incredible guests, we uncover the origins and delve into the science behind traditions that have inspired our modern pursuit of physical and spiritual well-being.

In episode one, we travelled to the west coast of Mexico to learn about the ancient origins and rituals around the Temescal sweat lodge.

We heard from Lupita Maldonado, the master of ceremonies at Temazcal Ba’duhiini, who shared much wisdom about the healing, benefits and principles behind the tradition. One of my favourite parts is when Lupita is talking about this indigenous connection to the elements, to the plants, to the rocks, to all living things, and how they see this as our original ancestors, you know, and that's something that we all share in today's episode. We're going to expand on this connection to nature. With the world in lockdown, we've grown a new appreciation for the outdoors, flocking to parks, trees, fields and forests in order to breathe deeply and find a sense of grounding amongst the relentless uncertainty of recent global events in indigenous cultures.

This deep reverence for and connection with the natural world pervades all corners of life. They live in constant dialogue with their natural habitat, absorbing wisdom and receiving direction and guidance from all living things. This concept of environmental harmony is a common thread that connects indigenous cultures from across the world. And on today's episode, we hope to show you that that relationship with nature isn't one way. There's a relationship we can develop with the natural world around us to draw strength, feel connected and supported.

There's been mountains of studies and research on the intelligence of plant life. And in a time when we're being so separated from other human beings, getting out into nature and nourishing our relationship with it can be incredibly profound. On today's episode, we'll be hearing again from Robin Landau and Stefan Batorijs, who's a Shinrin-Yoku practitioner. Shinrin-Yoku translates to English a forest bath or forest bathing.

[00:03:22] It was a practise developed in the 1980s by the government in Japan in response to society's decline in well-being. Large areas of natural reserve were reforested and the practise was developed to help the Japanese find their peace amongst nature. But what is far is bathing welfarist bathing is taking in the forest atmosphere, it means immersing ourselves in the forest, a multisensory experience where we move through the world with our body first and our minds second. We tap into every sense to notice the smaller details, the nuances of all this going on around us and restoring our bodies, minds, spirits and our energies in the process. In the early 2000s, Japan formalised forest medicine as an official scientific treatment, funding many studies into the physiological and psychological benefits of being in the forest.

However, the Japanese connection to the forest runs back much further than the 1980s. The indigenous Japanese religion of Shinto contains many myths, deities and teachings. Born from the forest environment, Shinto is seen more as a way of being than a religion in the traditional sense. The basic principle underlying it is this reverence for and a coexistence with nature. And it differs from other religions in that there is no religious figure or a leader. There's no sacred texts or scriptures and no congregational worship. Instead, followers of the way of Shinto draw their deities from the natural world plants, trees, mountains and rocks regarding all living things as sentient and things to be respected and cared for.

The forest is a ritual space of worship for followers of Shinto, and most shrines are situated in natural environments. Is that's the place where the county, the spirits and the gods like to dwell? According to an ancient Shinto belief, a God would descend to an elegant mountain to exist in a large oak tree. And people believe that certain trees had special powers to invite a God soul so they would plant them at the shrines entrance.

[00:05:40] And in rural Japan, Shinto shrines became focal points in the community, with communities actively protecting and preserving the surrounding forests as part of their spiritual practise.

[Robyn Landau]

Nature has incredible benefits for the human brain and body.

We know that it's incredibly strong at restoring our attention and helping us recover from stress. It's now one of the strongest practises for preventative medicine. So we can genuinely say that trees really do have healing powers. It happens in a variety of different ways. But the trees release essential oils called cytokines that protect trees from germs and also have really great health benefits for people as well.

The oils boost mood and immune system. They reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, confusion, improves sleep and creativity, and can even fight off things like depression by their impact on our mood. There's also been an incredible amount of studies about depression and anxiety and mood disorders, loads and loads of studies have compared this across, even being inside with biofuel like plants on your desk, living walls, looking at nature photos.

[00:07:02] They all have similar benefits. Of course, going out there and being in nature yourself is the strongest. So while Shinrin-Yoku might only be 30 years old, which is relatively young in relation to other traditional rituals across cultures, the conversation around the human connection to nature and its benefit has been going on for quite some time. There is a really famous evolutionary biologist called Edward O. Wilson, who said people have a biological urge to commune with the primordial Mother Earth, which nurtures us. He believed that humans have evolved to love all forms of life, and the processes that reflect our existence are found everywhere in nature.

[Yasmin]

As humans, we come from the earth, we have evolved alongside nature, so we feel most at home within it. No wonder it helps us switch modes and restore. When we spend time nourishing that primal part of ourselves, we feel safe, whole and nestled in a sense that stems back in time.

[Stefan Batorijs]

Hi, I'm Stefan Batorijs and I'm a nature therapist and forest medicine practitioner. I've spent pretty much my entire life out in the woods working therapeutically with people. When we come back to the forest, we're also reconnecting with our origins. We're connecting with the genetic endowment, if you like, of where we all originated from. We're coming home when we come to the forest. We're coming home. We're coming back to ourselves. Back to that place of belonging within us that's encoded within our DNA.

[Yasmin]

[00:08:55] Since becoming aware of Shinrin-Yoku, my daily walks have been imbued with a new kind of presence, you know, being separated from friends, my partner, my spiritual home. Like most people out there, I've been craving connection, you know, to something tangible, forcing myself through a screen all day, through calls or messages, emails to communicate just kind of left me feeling a little bit depleted, you know, reading so many articles and opinions and thoughts and words to my mental space as being kind of cloudy. And the way that I've been trying to remedy that is by getting outside.

And so now when I go outside, I'm starting to listen, starting to hear what it's trying to tell me. You know, I start by allowing the sounds to just wash over me here in each of the birds, their melody, their call, noticing the sound of the wind, you know, when it builds and it swirls and relaxes and feeling the sensation of it against my face, feeling the touch of the wind and near where I'm currently staying, there is a path through an open field. And halfway down this path, there's this beautiful big tree with a huge trunk that kind of like coils into the ground like a screw. And just before it descends into the grand part of the trunk comes out and it kind of forms this perfect seat to just sit down and rest your back against it. And when I sit there, I try to sense the qualities of this tree, you know, sturdy and strong, persistent and resilient. And I just allow myself to feel supported by its presence. You know, human beings, we need closeness and connection. We're social creatures no matter where we fall on the scale between introverted and extroverted, you know, deep down, we feel comfort while we're around living things.

[Stefan]

When you go into nature. And so you find a particular tree. That you feel some affinity with or you feel some connection to this tree, you keep going back to visit the same tree. Each time you go back there, you create a kind of energy imprint in that place. And so your relationship with that tree deepens each time you go there because you leave a part of your energy behind.

[00:11:31] Trees are aware of our presence, so when we took on this lower scientific level and the money it has of the rootlets of trees are very sensitive to our footsteps, to the pressure of our feet on the soil. So they're aware of us being there.

And I think that when we tune in, when we can tune into trees, we can also begin to have these these kind of silent conversations with them. You know, big trees have been around for sort of two, three, 400 years. So they've seen a few things. So they have a particular perspective on life. And I think when we go to these places with our problems. We don't get direct answers, but when we go with our troubles and our worries to these places. And we sit there when we come away. Something has shifted. Something has changed.

The forest is a living creature, a living entity. Each forest almost has its own personality, its own character, and that's because each forest is comprised of very specific, unique vegetation. And it's the relationship between the trees, the plants, the animals, the birds that live in that area.

[Yasmin]

Each forest is like a little community, no different from the ones that we live in. Each carries with it. So in essence, its own creatures and a variety of shapes, colours, sizes and personalities. So the more we can begin to think about the magic that lives in the world of the many forest creatures, the more we can really immerse ourselves in so much of what is going on in these truly magical ecosystems. Forest bathing is a multisensory experience, and what that means is, is body over mind and tuning into all our five senses from what we hear to the way we see feel the wind on our face or the smells that we soak in, to the Japanese, the sensory experience of nature, the sounds, the smells, the sights and physical sensations, we're seen as divine blessings from the kami themselves. Here's Stefan and Robyn to tell us a bit more about the senses.

[Stefan]

[00:13:55] Part of the reason why the senses are so important to me is because I feel that the senses are the way that our souls actually learn about our physical existences. So the senses are like the kind of interpreters of sensations that allows our souls to experience this, this physicality, this material existence. And when we begin to tune into the senses in greater detail, we just get back in touch with this deeper resonance that we have within us. This is animal spirit and it just brings us more to life. All of the senses are actually quite subtle. And part of the reason why the forest is so good for us is because in our urban living, we tend to keep our senses fairly shut down in order to kind of cope with life. And so we come out to the forest and we can just allow our senses to kind of spring open and enjoy all of the different sensations of the forest. And in order to do that, we need to just slow everything right down.

[Robyn]

[00:15:11] When we slowed down, we can enter into a new state of being where we're sharing in this non-verbal two way dialogue with the natural world, it gives us space to listen with our full bodies and restore our presence and aliveness, not just with nature, but in our relationship to ourselves and others as well. And it's in the state of being where we're intentionally dwelling without an outcome. It's a space where we aren't seeking to get anything out of it. And when we do so, it can be really magical what begins to emerge.

[Stefan]

When we go out to the forest, what I want to encourage people to do is to stop looking and begin seeing allow that eyesight to go into neutral so that they're taking in the shapes and forms and textures of the forest. And what that does is it begins to take us into a slightly altered state of consciousness.

[Robyn]

[00:16:23] Natural settings prompt an involuntary focus where our vision and attention are open and relaxed in a forest. Our gaze softens and opens. We're more attentive and aware, but not tensed. And this relaxed attention makes you more mentally receptive. And actually, there's a fully formed scientific theory on this called attention restoration theory is that when you go outside in nature, once you return, you can concentrate better whether you're spending time in nature or looking at scenes of it yourselves. Nature has this way, as we've spoken about, to bring us away from the normal business of the mind and drop us back into our bodies, that kind of soft gaze and this effort, less attention actually restores our ability to attend to things.

As humans, we're just constantly integrating and processing information, it's our natural way. So after spending more time in nature and seeing its beauty and richness allows us to recover from some of this mental fatigue we experience and allows us to focus our efforts to where it needs to go when we are doing something important that takes up a considerable amount of our attention. The other hugely interesting part of what happens when we're out there seeing nature are fractal patterns. So fractals are any sort of kind of ongoing, systematic, repeating geometrical patterns. And many of nature's objects are indeed fractals that repeat and increasingly find magnifications. So thinking about a tree, you might first see the big branches growing out of the trunk and then you see smaller versions growing out of each big branch. And as you keep zooming in, finer branches appear all the way down to the smallest makes. A lot of people may have seen fractal geometry and fractal art and computer graphics before that have this really mesmerising and restorative effect. But nature is the original fractal. And so we're absorbing these fractal patterns in nature all the time when we go out there and see our.

[Stefan]

We tend to mix hearing with sites, we tend to use the two together, one kind of affirms the other in building that picked that three dimensional picture. So I try to encourage people to let their sense of hearing come in slowly.

And I've had really profound results with playing around, with just listening to the forest. And I think it's because when we tune into the sounds of the forest, we're actually immersed in this whole symphony of wonderful sounds coming at us from all sides. If we can just silence ourselves and still ourselves in the forest, nature comes towards us. So we're bathed in this amazing soundscape because once again it spills us. It just somehow takes us back to our default settings in life.

[Robyn]

Inherently, humans are multisensory and there's loads of benefits that are delivered through our non-visual senses. So we know nature is not silent. Spending time walking in the trees, you might hear birdsong or the rumble of thunder gurgling, water crunching leaves, all of which have been shown to have a restorative impact on our systems combating some of the unhealthy landscapes of noise pollution in our cities. Studies have shown that natural sound impact our nervous system responses associated with relaxation and ease and effects are resting activity in our brains as well.

[00:20:35] So most of the time, we're listening inwards almost to a sense of a babbling brook of our inner thoughts and our chattering ego. But being in the woods were asked to listen outwards, to tune into the forests frequency by slowing down, listening in all directions, and although we're listening to the plants and nature around us, there's new science actually to show that they can hear us, too.

Studies have shown that plants actually, which listen to readings grew taller than the ones that didn't end. And actually female voices had a stronger impact. So since it's been known for quite some time that plants communicate with each other, it makes sense that the human element also has an impact. You know, wind and vibration induced these changes in plant growth. So synth sound is essentially a vibration in itself. It makes sense that this human voice would carry impact. So whether you're outside or whether you're inside with your indoor plants, don't be afraid to talk them in at night. Talk to them about how much you love them, play some music for them, you know, put your headphones close to them and to your own little experiment to see how they grow.

[Yasmin]

We'll be back with more Shinrin-Yoku right after this.

Trippin is powered by a global community of diverse voices that are shaping today's cultural landscape. It's an independent platform connecting travel, culture and creativity like never before, collaborating with our community to uncover stories, find at the intersection of social and cultural boundaries, combining guides and experiences with audio, film and written word to create an ecosystem that empowers people to travel with more purpose.

[00:22:50] Shinrin-Yoku is all about connecting with nature, and as Stefan explains, our sense of touch is a really powerful way to deepen that connection.

[Stefan]

One of the sort of foundations of my work comes from a philosopher in Finland called Juhani Pallasmaa. He wrote a book called The Eyes of the Skin. And what he's saying is that. Our original site comes through our skin that we see with our skin, and so if somebody closes their eyes. And then starts to explore the forest, it's really through touch through that sensation of the skin meeting another living creature, another texture other than its own that creates this relationship. And so we begin to explore the bark of the tree, the feeling of the soft green moss growing on the boulders or on the trees. We can feel the leaves and we can begin to put our hands down into the earth, into the soil, and begin to feel the sensuality of all of these textures if we can allow ourselves to go barefoot. In the forest and walk slowly.

It's amazing what our feet pick up and it's almost like our feet become our eyes, our feet sense what is on the ground and relays that information back to our brain. We then translate that into a picture.

[Robyn]

[00:24:31] The forest is filled with so many different textures and materials, even just thinking about the various feelings of barks on trees or the smooth underbelly beneath the bark which has peeled. And so right now we all need hugs. So even though we can't go around hugging our friends as normal, we can make new friends with trees and still get some loving from them. And actually there's loads of benefits of doing so similar to when we hug our friends or loved ones, it releases about our levels or increases our levels of oxytocin, which is the hormone responsible for feeling calm and emotional bonding. And so when we hang a tree, these levels of oxytocin increased as well as serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel happier. So go out there, spend some time connecting to a tree that calls to you, see what sort of connection you can build and give it a hug, maybe go out there and visit it a couple of times a week and see what sort of relationship you built.

Believe it or not, smell is actually our most memorable of all our senses. It has a direct impact in the memory formation of our brain, which is no surprise when you think about it. Smelling a certain scent takes you back to a very specific place in time and a memory that you have. It's also known that many of the restoring physiological effects in the forest are achieved by inhaling the forest atmosphere, which includes various phytochemicals mainly produced by the trees in the form of terpenes. These fragrant molecules are what gives plants and flowers and trees their wide range of scents, and this is specifically what contributes to the benefits of forest bathing or using essential oils. So next time you're out in nature, just make sure you are again consciously just thinking about your breathing. And there's so many benefits happening to you beyond your conscious awareness.

[Stefan]

[00:26:31] When we take people out into the forest, it's an opportunity for the nose and that sense of smell to really come alive. And I encourage people to become like a kind of smell detective, allow themselves to catch the whiff of a particular scent on the air and to follow that scent, see if I can locate where it's come from.

[Robyn]

So nature immersion also stimulates these inner senses or sensations that we sometimes speak less about and also about how the experience of what these outer senses do to stimulate the feeling states within ourselves. And so feeling the forest deep inside of your own soul and using its mystical cues to feel in a bit deeper into yourself offers a really restorative experience not only for your connection to nature, but your connection back to your own self inside and thinking about these different sensations and how they arise.

[00:27:33] So when you're out in nature, next time you're on a walk. Take a minute to just notice your breath, notice the speed at which you walk and any spaciousness you might feel inside your own body, it's a lot more than just the outer world, but it's about using the cues from that outer world to have a source of expansion within your own self. So children, yoga is like a bridge between us and the natural world. We may not travel very far, but in connecting us with nature, it allows us to come back to ourselves.

[Yasmin]

[00:28:20] I'd like to play you this voice note from a lady called Chizuru Nishino, she's the mother of a friend of mine, a Japanese lady, and I asked her if she would share a little something about the Japanese connection to nature from a personal perspective. And this is what she had to say.

“You are Tokyo and you met at the I was born in Tokyo and grew up in a concrete jungle. I always felt unhealthy. When I went to the village. I felt like I could breathe. I felt alive. I discovered at a young age that it's unhealthy for a human being to have no contact with nature. I haven't returned to live in Tokyo since then. In the past, the awareness of the Japanese was to live in harmony with nature, not to look down on it, but to level yourself with it. The Japanese are influenced by the Shinto religion. They pray to the God of the Earth that there will be abundance for rice cultivation and agricultural crops. Every element in nature has gods like the gods of the sea, the river, the stream, the springs. The elders in the villages pass on to the youngsters the desire to look at nature and learn from it. For example, they say, be as strong as the mountain. And so the children there grow up to be strong and connected to nature. Look at the water in the river, they say, and clear your mind. Now look at the big sky and let your emotions expand. You can see the court.”

Now, listeners to this podcast are all over the world living in different environments and holding different beliefs, but there's so much we can learn from how the indigenous Japanese people and the religion of Shinto value the sensations and qualities of nature as sacred healers and teachers. Hopefully now you can use your senses to more deeply connect with nature wherever you are. And the more time you spend being present with these sensations, the more you allow yourself to be restored by them.

[Stefan]

[00:30:28] I feel very strongly that we are all living at a crucial moment in our species history, part of the problem is that individually we can feel so unempowered to do anything to change one of the things that we can do. Is to engage with what I call reciprocity, reciprocity is about going out, meeting nature, engaging with nature and saying I am part of nature. Even though I live in this central heated house, I am still a part of nature and I am reliant on nature to live. I need to have oxygen to breathe and to survive.

And the Earth maintains our oxygen levels in the atmosphere at exactly twenty point nine percent. Any more or less than that, we cannot survive. So we are part of nature.

[Robyn]

Many of us actually disconnect from our bodies when we're inside all day or when we're existing in this digital space, the body kind of disappears or we hold a lot of tension in our bodies in front of the screens and devices. Our breathing becomes shallow and some people even report a shortness of breath when they do notice it. So there's a new term for this actually called Screen Apnea, where you have shortness of breath in front of your tank and actually getting outside more and taking in the breath from nature and just noticing your breath in your body more, even unconsciously while you're walking, proves to be really, really effective for our health and well-being.

[Stefan]

I get a lot of people approaching me who live in urban areas saying, well, it's all very well, you live near a forest, but what about us here? I live in a tower block. So. Nature is all around us, the answer to that is that the animal part of me would still need to find that connection to nature. So very much like an urban fox going around my little routine, my little trip round the local neighbourhood. I would go out of my door and I would start to notice where is nature? Is it a little plant, a little weed growing up through the crack in the pavement? Is it a bit of waste ground that doesn't seem to belong to anybody that's covered in a jungle of Brambles and other plants? So I begin to create a pathway through the urban environment that connected me to the wild parts of nature. So I'm not talking about the parks and gardens that are so wonderful within our cities, but I'm talking about these scrappy little bits of waste ground that nobody seems to be looking after. And so when you see a little weed growing in the pavement, that is a pioneer.

[00:33:41] We live not on the earth, but within the earth, and so we can begin to tune in to where nature is, even in a busy urban place, and we can let that feed us and nourish us.

[Robyn]

The essence and core for us failing is presence. It's about attending to the here and now the experience flipping the Western way of thinking of mind over body and enforced bathing. We let our minds rest and our body to experience. And with that, we replenish our resources. So when we think about our body to experience, first of all, the mind, we can call this a sense of embodiment. And when we do so, we begin to have a different experience. And so moving into this embodied presence can help us build new perspectives for how we interact with nature. And with this, we can really slowly move away from the self and the other are human and nature and move into my symbiotic living where we all coexist, sharing the environment as a collection of living entities on the earth. So when we go into the forest, when we bathe in it, we're soaking in so much more than the physical, tangible benefit. We're soaking in the energy of the forest. It's collective wisdom, it's symbiotic nature. And whether we're conscious of it or not, we absorb this energy, this ancient wisdom and way of living that defines the forest. And we can begin to embody those same roots within our interpersonal and societal relationships as well.

[Yasmin]

To close this episode, Stefan is going to guide us through Shinrin-Yoku meditation.

[00:35:38] So if you can, why don't you pause this episode, go outside, find some nature and give it a try next week or taking to the skies and exploring rituals, wisdom and ways of being that have come from a connection to the cosmos. We speak with author Jo Marchant and Sidereal astrologer and social activist Dana Lynn Nuckolls.

You can email us on Rootsandritual@trippin.world. If you've got any stories, if you've got any tales or rituals, practises things that have been supporting you, or if you just want to say hello, we're down for that, too. Please go ahead and subscribe to this podcast series. Throw us five stars. Show us some love. We really appreciate it. This is Roots and Ritual, a podcast by trip in. My name is Yasmin, your host. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time. Until then, stay well and stay trippin. If you enjoyed this episode, please do hit, subscribe, follow or throw us five stars on your podcast platform of choice. We appreciate the love. Thank you to Ami Bennett for editing this episode. And thank you to Project Gemini for their amazing track, the ritual that you heard throughout the show.

Here's Stephan Beatrice with a guided Shinrin-Yoku meditation.

[Stefan]

[00:37:07] So you're standing in the forest and I just invite you, if you'd like to, to remove your socks and shoes. This might seem a little odd at first, but walking barefoot in the forest, even in winter just gives you this incredible sensation of connection, a touch. So but it's not essential for this exercise. It's just an invitation, if you'd like to. So we're going to walk really, really slowly. So what I'd like you to do is to stand still.

Let everything relax. And just move forward when you feel this impulsion to move forward, when you feel that something is drawing you deeper into the forest. So, you know, just waiting and waiting for that moment. So you're not moving forward from your willpower or from your ego, but you're being drawn forward by the spirit of the forest. Now, what I'd like you to do is to imagine that there's this tiny, thin gossamer thread attached to your chest in front of your chest, and it's just pulling you very gently forwards and you're moving forward with the breath of the forest. In and out. And your attuning your movements so that in out of the forest to just let your foot slide forwards really slowly and stop.

Then let the other foot catch up, stop. Just beginning to move in a different way now. Again, as I say, let the forest move you let go surrender, give in to the forest and it will take you on a journey. You don't know where you're going. You don't need to know. Just go with the forest. Just breathe with the pulse.