Forest Bathing wasn’t a term I was familiar with until I read about it in a recent issue of The Washington Post. I confess to an inward eye roll as I scanned the article.
The practice involves unplugging from all of your technological tools and toys to “bathe” in the great outdoors. Back in the day we called it, "Going for a walk in the woods."
Or we simply announced that we were heading outside for some fresh air.
Although I have yet to know anyone who officially forest bathes, I read that it's a serious activity that has been an important part of Japanese culture since the 1980s. Now it’s supposedly catching fire in the United States.
Perhaps elevating the mundane and giving it a fancy new name will help tease us away from technology and encourage us to spend more time pursuing healthy activities that speak to our humanness, including our heart, in both a literal and figurative sense.
Let's hope so. The Nature Conservancy pointed out that today's kids are basically under house arrest. According to a poll by that organization, only 10 percent of children are spending time outside every day.
And there's more.
The sadness and madness of it all
Just last week I read the results of a study conducted by researchers at Swansea University in Wales, U.K., where it was discovered that internet addicts have a weakened immune system and are more susceptible to the flu.
It seems that our inability to wrest ourselves from the compulsion to swipe screens has become epidemic.
We are substituting MacBook Airs for fresh air.
In fact, the recent newspaper article in The Washington Post and Swansea University’s research project both support results from a formal study I commissioned last year for an initiative I was working on. Through the study, I discovered that 53 percent of American adults believe our human senses are not as sharp as they used to be. The study’s participants attributed the attrition to the vast amounts of time we spend in front of the screens of our various mobile devices.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered a few red flags that indicate to me when it’s time to literally take a deep breath and make a course correction – a la Forest Bathing, a walk in the woods or whatever you want to call it.
And let’s be honest. It’s not only work-related matters that tether us to technology. While out shopping, I have caught myself reaching into my handbag numerous times to retrieve my phone -- when in fact it’s another shopper’s mobile device that was chiming with a new message notification.
Another sign that screams, “YOU NEED A VACATION FROM VIRTUAL” is when I set out to quickly research something and an hour later end up miles from where I started. For example, a friend was wondering about airfare between New York and Paris, so I hopped online.
Information about airfares led to researching the coming weekend’s weather forecast, which then led to reviews of the best ice cream shops in my city. Eventually, I ended up watching a viral video of a cat that made its way into an aging bear’s enclosure at a California zoo with the two becoming BFFs.
Time flies when you’re having fun online. Unfortunately, that hour is gone forever.
Don't forget to just breathe
One delightful way out of this matrix is to make a conscious effort to step into nature -- as Forest Bathing suggests – and breathe in its fragrant cocktail composed of various scents.
As someone who has formally studied natural scent, I understand the power behind it. Scientifically proven to be the most potent of all our human senses, our sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than our sense of taste. Scent evokes memories and stirs our soul. Experiencing various scents reminds us that we’re human, and it helps fortify us so that, once again, we’re ready to take on technology – but in a way that's tempered by the essence of real life.
While “Forest Bathing” may sound exotic (and, I'm sorry, borderline ridiculous), the concept is spot on. I've decided to commit to opening my front door a little more often to savor the outdoors. And if I let my nose lead the way when I'm out in the natural world, the experience will be even more powerful.
In the spirit of slowing down and catching one's breath, I’ve created a scented walk that I hope you will take a few minutes to check out -- and enjoy. If you choose to embark on the 15-minute walk, here’s wishing you a refreshing journey of rediscovery and revitalization. Click here to go on the walk!