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Shinrin-yoku: Slowing down, or trying anyway


Tom and Tigger slowly climbing the driveway to our isolated mountain retreat


Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese phrase translated as "forest bathing." The idea, as I understand it, is to simply be in nature, taking in the whole experience of it. Without a particular goal, this may look like a slow meander through the forest, allowing all of your senses to take in everything around you. A mindfulness practice in the great outdoors that offers arguable mental and physical health benefits.


I'm not great at this.


Shinrin-yoku is really a type of meditation and meditation is difficult when you first start. It's not so much a turning off of our brains as it is directing our brains to focus where we ask them to. And our brains have their own idea of where to focus, so there's a bit of a tug-o-war happening at times. While I want to be all absorbed in the nature I'm surrounded by, my brain also wants to think about... everything else.


What was that noise, a chipmunk or a bear? Should I be drinking more water? Am I drinking too much? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What food do we have to eat tonight? Don't forget to check Tigger for ticks. Ok was THAT a chipmunk or a bear? Did we pack snacks? What's happening in the world right now? Do I have cell service? Why am I thinking about my cell phone? Should I take a picture of this pretty scene to remember it or is it better just to watch it? Will I remember it? What was that sound?


Nature has become much more important to me in recent years as I've realized the value in unplugging, in being like a plant and feeding myself plenty of fresh air and sunshine. And I get better at nature-ing all the time, with practice and adaptation. I used to really hate being out in the rain or cold; I was a fair-weather nature fan. I received some advice that helped - there is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices. Being more mindful of what I wear for comfort and protection has been a huge help, something I just had to learn from trial and error.

Perspective is just as important as clothing. Being in nature is not always comfortable, but only ever being comfortable isn't really natural. Why AM I so bothered by minor weather changes? Or by non-threatening bugs? A lot of it is just that I'm not used to it. But the more I get out, the more used to it I get and so now some things that used to sour an experience of the great outdoors are no longer even blips on the radar. There are still things I'm getting used to and getting better at (like not jumping at each sound in the night, even though I know those sounds are just chipmunks), but the more I expose myself to them, the better I get.


Our amazing view for five days.

Highly recommend this unique Air BNB spot


And so it is with shinrin-yoku, a practice that I am most certainly not perfect at, but will continue to try. It's so funny that being in nature can feel so unnatural to us these days, which is all the more reason I try to prioritize being outside as much as possible, even if just in my yard or walking the dog in our local park. I try more to leave my cell phone at home, to quiet down and take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes and the feel of the sun, the rain or whatever the weather offers that day. And I do feel more comfortable and more refreshed the more I practice, even if I still have thoughts of post-nature snacks creep into my brain frequently enough.


Do you have a nature practice? Share how you incorporate more nature into your life in the comments!

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