Highly Sensitive Refuge
a highly sensitive person forest bathing

‘Forest Bathing’ Is a Thing, and It Can Heal Highly Sensitive People

Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were times when I was able to escape the hustle and bustle of my home environment and spend the afternoon in the woods climbing or sitting in trees. As a highly sensitive child, I had a special connection to nature and was able to perceive the beauty of living things around me in a rich, intuitive way. I even had trees in my neighborhood who I viewed as companions, who gave me a sense of deep joy and well-being.

The quietness and stillness of forests made me feel more centered and grounded in a world with too much stimuli. This deep connection to the natural world is common when you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP). It’s part of the HSP wiring: we crave places that are both lush with beauty yet also calm and quiet. Often, nature does exactly that.

Now, as a highly sensitive adult balancing a 9 to 5 job with other responsibilities, I try to make my way into the woods as often I can (usually on the weekends if I have time at all!). I struggle to maintain that same sense of centeredness in my daily life that spending time among nature provided as a child — and can provide to all HSPs.

That’s where a Japanese practice and philosophy known as Shinrin-yoku makes such a big difference for me.

The Japanese Art of ‘Forest Bathing’

Shinrin-yoku in Japanese means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or, literally, “forest bathing.” It means not only spending time in the woods, but doing so in a way that is designed to be peaceful and almost spiritual (there is no actual bathing involved!). And for a highly sensitive person, it’s one of the most grounding and soothing practices you can use.

That’s because HSPs run the risk of becoming overloaded with stress from day to day living. Because we see and experience the world with heightened sensitivity, we are more attuned to take on others’ emotions, to carry stress from our work day back to our home lives, and store that stress in our bodies due to mental, emotional, and physical flooding. Spending time in nature among trees, through the practice of forest bathing, can serve as a self-care practice — and a remedy to this physical and emotional overload.

The practice of forest bathing has always emphasized the therapeutic benefits of simply spending time in nature among trees. Originating in Japan in the 1980s and promoted by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, the practice has now become a mainstay of preventative health care in Japanese culture. But it’s not just Japan — forest bathing is also becoming increasingly popular around the world.

The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing

Engaging in the practice of forest bathing — also known as forest therapy — can not only decrease stress but make HSPs healthier, happier, and less prone to burnout.

Numerous scientific studies have been published in the past few years that show that spending time among trees — or forest bathing specifically — has the following health benefits and more:

How to Forest Bathe

As noted by Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, forest bathing does not mean engaging in strenuous exercise, jogging, or hiking.

Rather, it is simply immersing ourselves in the natural world and paying attention to our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. The key to forest bathing is engaging in mindfulness of the present moment.

It’s easy to get started: Go to a forest. Walk slowly and mindfully. Breathe deeply. Open your mind and body to your senses. What sights and sounds are you experiencing? How many different colors or shades of red, brown, yellow, or green can you see? Can you smell the scent of the trees? Can you hear the crunch of leaves or feel the softness of pine needles beneath your feet? Can you feel the warmth of the sunlight upon your face peeking through the canopy of leaves? Absorb these sensations and simply be aware of them.

Now: how do you feel emotionally? How does your body feel physically? Consider these questions as you walk slowly and as you mindfully pay attention to your senses.

Key tips to remember: Forest bathing isn’t about engaging in judgement or evaluation of what you notice. Rather, forest bathing emphasizes being mindful of your senses in the present moment and to simply experience or note your surroundings.

For those seeking a more physical activity with their practice, Dr. Qing Li also suggests that one may incorporate yoga, Tai chi, mindful eating, plant observation, or hot spring therapy into your forest bathing practice. Experiment and play!

How Often to Forest Bathe

Like most things in life, the more you regularly engage in the practice of forest bathing, the more benefits you will reap. For HSPs, this means taking time in our daily routine to disconnect from email, Netflix, and our phones and instead connect to the natural world around us. If you don’t live near a forest or arboretum, you’re still in luck. You can also take this mindfulness practice to a nearby park or garden. Any place with trees or elements of nature will work for developing your own practice.

The Highly Sensitive Person and Forest Bathing

For any highly sensitive person, our heightened sensitivity to the world around us can often mean an increased connection to and appreciation of the natural world (and pets!). Engaging in the practice of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing can be a healing and restorative practice — and for HSPs, it can be a crucial form of self-care. All those proven benefits involving reduced stress and fatigue, and improved mood and sense of happiness, are especially important to an overwhelmed HSP.

For sensitive people, forest bathing is a reminder that our special wiring also brings a host of unique healing opportunities. The natural world and the forest floor can be a place of HSP restoration and refuge.

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